MOORLACH UPDATE — Masking Fiscal Problems — December 10, 2018

The audited financial statements for California’s municipalities should be publicly released soon, if not already, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2018.

This year’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) will now include the unfunded liability for retiree medical benefits. This may take the independent Certified Public Accounting firms performing the audits a little more time as they acquire the actuarial documentation to support the amounts to be reported on the balance sheets.

Aren’t you glad you have a CPA as your State Senator? The two CAFRs I’m most anxious to see are the ones for LAUSD and the State of California (which is usually released in late March).

Why LAUSD? Because it has the largest unrestricted net deficit of any California school district, at $10.9 billion (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Los Angeles County School Districts — December 2, 2018). And reporting the retiree medical unfunded liability on the balance sheet means it will increase LAUSD’s deficit by another $15 billion (see https://reason.org/commentary/los-angeles-unified-school-district-unfunded-retiree-health-benefit-liability-nears-15-billion/).

R Street understands the magnitude of this serious fiscal dilemma at all levels below that of the state of California and provides its perspectives on the upcoming budget forecast in the piece below (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Optimistic Budget or Not? — November 18, 2018).

A recent Patch piece is referred to (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Public Schools Financial Crisis — November 3, 2018). It mentions California’s Financial Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). Our research is indicating those school districts that utilize FCMAT for emergency loans usually request amounts that are at a minimum two times, with most multiple times more, the size of their unrestricted net deficits.

Oakland Unified’s unrestricted net deficit in 2003 was $48.7 million when it was loaned $100 million. South Monterey County Joint Union High’s unrestricted net deficit was less than $2 million when it borrowed $13 million.

It looks like LAUSD will have an unrestricted net deficit of $25 billion! If it comes to the state for a loan from FCMAT, where will Sacramento find $50 billion to lend it?

Of course, previous emergency FCMAT loans were made when CAFRs did not include pension and retiree medical unfunded liabilities. So, maybe the loan amount will be lower. But, even if the loan is for the 2017 net unrestricted deficit of $10.9 billion, the amount will be staggering. It makes me wonder, should the teachers union for LAUSD really be contemplating a strike when its district is on the ropes? And, will LAUSD then suck all the air out of California’s projected surplus?

Surplus masks deep fiscal problems, especially in school districts

Steve-Greenhut-400x400.jpg

Steven Greenhut

Western Region Director, State Affairs

https://www.rstreet.org/2018/12/10/surplus-masks-deep-fiscal-problems-especially-in-school-districts/

As Gov. Jerry Brown heads into the sunset, he leaves California’s general-fund budget in remarkably sound shape, according to an analysis last month from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. “It is difficult to overstate how good the budget’s condition is today,” the LAO reported, pointing to a $14.5 billion reserve by the end of next year and touting an additional $14.8 billion in funds that can be used for myriad budget commitments in the new session. “By historical standards, this surplus is extraordinary,” it added. Such good news is indeed unusual and extraordinary.

The governor’s critics have rightly picked some nits with this good-news story. If there’s so much available cash, they ask, why did the governor last year increase gasoline taxes and vehicle-license fees? Brown led the charge for a 2012 proposition (Prop. 30) that boosted sales and income taxes, but economic growth had pushed budget surpluses above the amounts collected by the new taxes. Yet tax increases remain state lawmakers’ first-reach answer to every problem – with little effort expended on stretching the dollars the state already receives.

But there’s a bigger concern beyond Democratic lawmakers’ budgeting priorities and reliance on tax hikes. The real question: Should Californians really be so optimistic about the fiscal health of the state government? We’re all happy to see the surplus, but the answer is no — largely because it’s a mirage. The budget surplus doesn’t take into account the size of California’s unfunded pension and medical liabilities for public employees. Those debts are accounted for separately and that picture is decidedly less optimistic. The problem keeps getting worse because lawmakers continue to ignore it, preferring to instead bask in the more superficial good news.

“We literally owe trillions that isn’t being discussed,” explained Todd Royal, in a recent column in Fox and Hounds Daily. “Just the estimated payments on public employee pensions in California will increase from $31 billion in today’s dollars to $59 billion in 2024; and this number is based on non-recessionary conditions or a major correction in the stock market. And California immediately needs $800 billion to over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure repairs, upgrades and new construction.” He pointed to estimates from the California Policy Center last year pegging the total state and local debt for bonds, pensions and other post-employment benefits at $1.3 trillion, which is more than half of California’s Gross State Product.

For even more sobering news, state Sen. John Moorlach, the Costa Mesa Republican best known for predicting Orange County’s 1994 bankruptcy, released a study documenting the dire financial conditions facing California’s school districts. “About two-thirds of California’s 944 public school districts run negative balance sheets,” he explained in an October report. That amounts to 85 percent of California’s school districts. “This simple metric shows the most distressed districts could soon reach a tipping point into insolvency and receivership.” That compares to the approximately two-thirds of California cities and 95 percent of counties with negative balance sheets. Several school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, Fresno Unified, San Diego Unified and Santa Ana Unified are in “severe distress,” according to the senator’s analysis.

As a reporter for Patch noted, “Moorlach’s report focused on the Unrestricted Net Position (UNP), an accounting function contained on a school district’s balance sheet portraying what is essentially the net worth of its general fund – the account from which it pays salaries, benefits, administrative costs, maintenance of school buildings and other general operating expenses such as insurance, consulting services and travel.” Some critics dismissed that accounting measure by noting that it has little impact on a district’s day-to-day operations, but Moorlach argued that this is an important measure for determining the degree to which unfunded liabilities are crowding out public services.

Under Proposition 98, the state promises a particular amount of funding to K-14 school districts based on a formula. The Legislative Analyst’s Office also analyzed school budgets and was somewhat less optimistic than it was regarding the general-fund budget. It predicted a 3.1 percent increase in funding in the coming year and offered this caution: “The volatility of the minimum guarantee, the possibility of a recession sometime after 2019 20, and the lack of funding in the state school reserve are all reasons the Legislature might wish to budget cautiously in the upcoming year.”

Caution is a key word for the incoming Legislature, which will be more strongly Democratic than the outgoing Legislature after the blue wave crashed in California during the recent midterm elections. Democrats will hold solid supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly and are likely to face renewed pressure for increased spending, higher salaries and benefits for public employees, and on new programs that will involve the hiring of many more state workers.

Whenever the state has a budget surplus, powerful public-employee unions seek higher pay and benefits for their members. Yet the surplus, however welcome and impressive, pales in comparison to the off-budget liabilities and debts. The fiscal good news is a relief, but must be viewed in context. If state lawmakers are unwilling to address the unfunded liabilities, they should at least do no harm – and not use the surpluses as an excuse to go on a spending spree that makes the state’s long-term financial problems even more difficult to solve.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Reflection on Achievements — December 9, 2018

When I was the Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector and a County Supervisor, I would notify those receiving my UPDATE to be sure to pay their property taxes on time. Tomorrow, December 10th, is the deadline for the first installment. Paying it after this date results in a 10 percent penalty. If you have not paid your property tax bill, please get your payment postmarked today or Monday (if you wish to pay online, go to http://tax.o, cgov.com/tcweb/search_page.asp).

Now, on to some fun news from this very busy year. It’s about a few attaboys.

As you may recall, in 2017–I was recognized by the Apartment Association of Orange County as their Legislator of the Year (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Attaboy — January 22, 2018).

This year, on September 22nd, the California Psychiatric Association presented me with their 2018 Award of Appreciation. The beautiful plaque reads: “Who Stands out as a Mental Health Champion in the California Legislature and is Held in High Esteem by the Members of the California Psychiatric Association who Fully Appreciate the Significance of his Leadership.”

One of the many accomplishments was SB 1363 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 448 and SB 1363 — September 12, 2018). Another was SB 1206, which resulted in this November’s most successful ballot measure, Proposition 2 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Joint Author Details — July 7, 2018).

On October 20th, the Alliance of California Judges recognized me as the Legislator of the Year for 2018. This was for my efforts on SB 656 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 656, 905, 174 and AB 3129 — September 30, 2018).

And, on November 28th, at the 8th Annual “Turning Red Tape Into Red Carpet” I was presented with the 2018 Leadership in Public Service Award by the Orange County Business Council. OCBC recognized our work on AB 448 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 448 and SB 1363 — September 12, 2018). Their press release is provided by MarketWatch and the pertinent segment is the piece below.

One of my fellow Leadership in Public Service Award recipients, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, provides an editorial submission to the OC Register on what has been accomplished this year on the homelessness front in the second piece below. As 2018 comes to a close, it is good to reflect back on what has been accomplished in the OC by the collaboration of many for the benefit of the least, the last, and the lost.

OCBC Honors Government Agencies Cutting Red Tape In 8th Annual “Turning Red Tape Into Red Carpet” Awards

https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/ocbc-honors-government-agencies-cutting-red-tape-in-8th-annual-turning-red-tape-into-red-carpet-awards-2018-12-03/print

Local Leaders Tackling Homelessness: The Honorable Andrew Do, Orange County Supervisor 1 [st] District; The Honorable Jennifer Fitzgerald, Fullerton City Council Member; Dan Young, Camino Enterprises

Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors Andrew Do, Fullerton Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald (and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Association of California Cities—Orange County) and Dan Young played crucial roles in developing solutions to Orange County’s pervasive homelessness epidemic. Supervisor Do and Mr. Young spearheaded the purchasing of a 44,500 square foot building that will be used to provide supportive housing. Councilmember Fitzgerald was instrumental in advocating for a ACC-OC sponsored legislation to establish a public agency/joint powers housing trust, AB 448–Orange County Housing Finance Trust—to accept public and private funding for projects to end homelessness.

State Leaders Tackling Homelessness: The Honorable Tom Daly, Assemblymember 69 [th] District; The Honorable Sharon Quirk-Silva, Assemblymember 65 [th] District; The Honorable John Moorlach, Assemblymember 37 [th] District; The Honorable Patricia Bates: Assemblymember 36 [th] District

Assemblymembers Tom Daly and Sharon Quirk-Silva authored AB 448, a landmark bill that established the Orange County Housing Finance Trust to receive a mix of public and private funding to develop 2,700 units of permanent supportive housing that fit into the County’s comprehensive system of wrap-around services for homelessness prevention. Senators John Moorlach and Pat Bates vigorously pushed the legislation through the Senate, demonstrating unifying bipartisan support. AB 448 passed both chambers without a single opposition vote, a testament to AB 448’s common-sense solutions and unifying properties.

OPINION

In 2018, Orange County achieved meaningful progress on homelessness

By ANDREW DO

https://www.ocregister.com/2018/12/08/in-2018-orange-county-achieved-meaningful-progress-on-homelessness/

It has been a year of momentous change for Orange County.

We started the year transitioning more than 1,000 people out of two major homeless encampments. Now, we end the year with plans to build 2,700 units of supportive housing for the neediest in our communities and expand the number of emergency shelters and support services. In 2018, we took significant steps to build out a system of integrated services that are designed to help people transition permanently out of homelessness.

During this season of charity, it is appropriate that we reflect on the lessons we have learned, with the hope that we can build on those lessons to be even more effective in dealing with the national crisis of homelessness.

After almost four years of leading these efforts in the county, I know the most meaningful shift for Orange County has been our approach to combating homelessness.

When the year began, many homeless advocates questioned whether enough resources were reaching those in need. For far too long Orange County had been slow, reactive and far too restrained in our response to the problem. Shortly after taking over as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I acknowledged the county’s failures and promised a new direction.

Now, we are working together across county departments, and with cities, breaking down bureaucratic silos that inhibit access to service. We are also welcoming support from local, state, federal, and non-profit partners.

Our new direction is backed by a substantial commitment of resources across a burgeoning system of care. Thus far, in 2018, Orange County has allocated more than $189 million toward homeless-related programs. In March, the Board of Supervisors approved $70.5 million in state Mental Health Services Act funds to house homeless people living with mental illness in supportive housing programs. It was “the single largest appropriation ever committed by the County to fight homelessness” and propelled 259 new mental health and special needs housing units currently in progress.

To meet our immediate shelter needs, we supplemented the county’s Courtyard homeless shelter in Santa Ana by extending the emergency shelters at two National Guard Armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton and adding capacity at SAFEPlace women’s shelter, American Family Housing shelter for couples, and Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter.

In addition to emergency shelter programs, we have invested $26 million to build the first county-owned mental health facility. The 44,556-square-foot facility will allow individuals to get help in one place — accessing emergency mental health crisis stabilization, drug abuse treatment, and residential psychiatric care. We also approved $2.4 million for recovery residence service to provide safe and drug-free housing for those seeking to get clean.

To create more housing in the short term, we are piloting new projects to encourage private landlords to make units available to rent to homeless individuals by providing them with financial protection. The county contributed $250,000 in seed funding to support the Orange County United Way’s Landlord Incentive program. Over the next year, the pilot project will provide as many as 55 housing placements by removing financial barriers, such as providing application expense reimbursement, security deposits, damage claims assistance, etc., which inhibit access to stable housing.

Orange County has also recognized the importance of linking people to supportive services. More than $5.4 million has been committed toward a multi-service center. Operated by the Mental Health Association of Orange County, the program connects homeless mentally ill adults with behavioral health assessment, counseling, hygiene kits, and provides transportation to reach necessary behavioral health and medical services.

Just as important as coordinating services, our community is embracing cooperation among local, state and federal governments to create more permanent supportive housing as part of our long-term solution. The County of Orange and the Association of California Cities-Orange County co-sponsored Assembly Bill 448, which enabled the creation of the Orange County Housing Finance Trust. Orange County Senators John Moorlach and Pat Bates with Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva and Tom Daly fast tracked the bill, which will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private funding to develop affordable and supportive housing for both working families and those who are homeless. We are also working with the business community and philanthropic leaders to supplement public funds with private donations.

Cities have contributed, too. The Santa Ana City Council recently expedited the building of a new temporary 200-bed homeless shelter, called the Link Shelter. The cities of Anaheim and Orange, along with others are working on shelter and mental health facilities, which should come on line in the near future.

We haven’t solved the problem. There’s still more work to be done. Thousands of individuals lack a safe place to sleep every night, and tens of thousands more are a paycheck away from losing their homes. But for the first time in decades, Orange County has developed a responsible path forward and comprehensive approach to combating this national problem.

Andrew Do is Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Motor Voter Madness — December 6, 2018

Last year, during the winter break, I flew up to Sacramento and had a private meeting with Secretary of State Alex Padilla in his office. I shared with him that I had been receiving constituent concerns about the new motor voter program, which would be launched in the following spring. He calmly and graciously assured me all was well and there was nothing to worry about. I took him at his word, despite mounting concerns about the process.

In September, the Department of Finance conducted a performance audit which disclosed that there was plenty to worry about, as the Department of Motor Vehicles was guilty of numerous and significant human errors (see https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article219739930.html). Apparently, 1,500 individuals who were not U.S. citizens were registered to vote!

I immediately wrote to the Secretary of State, reminding him of our meeting and calmly and graciously requested that he answer a few questions. The Sacramento Bee obtained the exchange of correspondences and includes it in the piece below. I have my letter and Mr. Padilla’s response posted on my website at https://moorlach.cssrc.us/content/voter-integrity.

The resulting piece can also be found in The Modesto Bee, the Merced-Sun Star, and The Fresno Bee.

After an amazing and historical election cycle in Orange County last month, it should be cause for us to review and analyze what occurred. Allowing non-citizens to vote is egregious and could have made a difference in a few very closely contested city council races. Consequently, I am looking at legislation to more fully assure voter integrity, and some of the ideas are referred to in the piece. I have been working with Orange County’s renowned Registrar of Voters, Neal Kelley, on suggested language for a more specific and targeted bill.

CALIFORNIA

Sacramento Bee files complaint over Motor Voter records

BY BRYAN ANDERSON

banderson
www.modbee.com/news/state/california/article222622185.html
https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/state/california/article222622185.html
https://www.fresnobee.com/news/state/california/article222622185.html

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is refusing to turn over public documents that could shed light on problems with the state’s Motor Voter program, which launched earlier this year to automatically register people to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Motor Voter has come under fire after thousands of Californians were improperly registered to vote, and it remains unclear whether any non-citizens voted this year.

The Sacramento Bee last month submitted a records request for written communications to or from Padilla and his chief of staff, Bill Mabie, regarding a batch of approximately 1,500 registration errors.

Padilla’s office released 268 pages in response, though half the pages were newsletters he received from news organizations that referred to the registration errors. His office said it did not have to disclose additional material. “Some attorney-client privileged communications and other documents reflecting the deliberative process and official information privileges were not included in the page count, along with records that reflect the candid evaluations and exchange of ideas that assist the decision-makers in making their final policy and other executive decisions.”

An attorney working on behalf of The Sacramento Bee disagrees with Padilla’s assertions.

“I don’t think it’s a legitimate response to a (Public Records Act) request,” said Karl Olson, a partner in Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes & Olson LLP. “They’re just kind of lumping together any possible exemption that they can think of, including many that it would seem obvious could not possibly apply. … Unfortunately, it’s not that unusual that you get this kind of a … response.”

Olson on Thursday sent a letter to Padilla demanding the release of additional records.

“Seeing how the Secretary of State did or didn’t handle registration errors is a matter of intense public interest,” he wrote. “The interest in disclosure of records relating to this clearly outweighs any interest in non-disclosure.”

Padilla has declined to be interviewed. “It is our policy not to comment on pending investigations,” he said in a statement.

Padilla declined to explain what investigation he was referring to. The Department of Finance is now auditing the DMV. The two agencies said they are not aware of any other ongoing investigations beyond the audit.

Emelyn Rodriguez, executive director of Californians Aware and an attorney specializing First Amendment cases, said there appears to be a lack of transparency.

“What’s kind of surprising is they’re not willing at all to provide any details or speak to this serious issue and allegation of irregularity in the voting,” Rodriguez said. “There should be some response there, and that’s troubling, quite frankly. He’s a public official. He’s accountable to the public. There should be some statement about what’s being done.”

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, has been a vocal critic of the DMV. He fell one vote shy in August on his request to have state Auditor Elaine Howle investigate the DMV. Patterson plans to renew calls for an audit in January and questioned Padilla’s response to The Bee’s inquiry.

“It is suspicious,” Patterson said. “If there’s nothing to see here, then open up the file, show the light. Unfortunately my experience in government has been that if there is something to see, oftentimes there’s all kinds of reasons why only this information will be allowed and that information is kept secret. When it comes to voting, there should be no secrets at the Secretary of State’s Office. Period.”

Among the 268 pages of material is a Nov. 9 letter Padilla sent to state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa. Moorlach had demanded answers in September, soon after 23,000 erroneous voter registrations were disclosed.

“The DMV informed us that certain individuals that declined to respond or answer no to any one of the five eligibility questions were incorrectly registered through no fault of their own,” Padilla wrote to Moorlach. “We have notified county election officials to cancel these records.”

The five eligibility questions include one asking people to confirm they are “a U.S. citizen and a resident of California and at least 18 years old.” Padilla said in his letter the inaccurate registrations do not constitute voter fraud because they were the result of errors made by the DMV and California Department of Technology. He told Moorlach his office “continues to to explore various strategies that can help voters identify and report irregularities.”

Moorlach is not pleased with the response and questioned the integrity of the vote in the last election.

“There’s a shadow over the results that make a lot of constituents wonder what is going on, and I don’t have any evidence other than I have to assume that the Democrats did a great job of getting ballots to the Registrar of Voters,” Moorlach said. “All I’m concerned about is a fair fight. I don’t want to go to a knife fight and end up looking at machine guns.”

He’s now considering introducing bills that would place stringent voting requirements that would likely reduce turnout. His proposals are unlikely to see the light of day in the Capitol, given historic Democratic advantages. Among the ideas Moorlach is floating is eliminating Motor Voter completely, clearing the rolls of any person who hasn’t voted in the last four years and implementing strict ID requirements.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Legislative Analytics for 2017-18 — December 5, 2018

I’m more of a policy person, so you’ll enjoy the second and third pieces below. But, politics is also a component of this life in the state legislature. And, the first piece provides one of the two upcoming big political events on the immediate horizon. The California Republican Party’s Convention is in February and will be critical, as a new Chair and Vice Chair will be elected by the delegates.

The upcoming Senate vacancy, due to the election of Sen. Ted Gaines to the State Board of Equalization, will mean a special election in March, similar to the one that brought me to Sacramento in March 2015. When asked about my concerns, I shared them and they even became a portion of the title in “The Capitol Alert” e-mail by The Sacramento Bee, the top portion of which is the first piece below.

Speaking of the possibility of having too many candidates in an effort to succeed Sen. Gaines, Techwire has a piece, the second below, on one of the potential candidates. This year I successfully jockeyed a resolution, ACR 215 on artificial intelligence, for Assemblyman Kevin Kiley on the Senate Floor.

The third piece below, from Capitol Weekly, provides an analytical recap of bills by someone who does a great job of keeping track. As a reminder, I served on the Senate Budget, Governance & Finance and Insurance Committees.

BONUS: You’re invited to visit our District Office for our annual Christmas Open House. The event will be held tomorrow, December 6th, from 4 to 6 p.m. My entire staff will be there to give you an education on what we have been doing and plan on accomplishing in the new year. Dress is Christmas comfortable. (Wearing a Reyn Spooner Christmas shirt will get you an extra cookie.)

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Capitol Alert

The go-to source for news on California policy and politics

CAPITOL ALERT

Will California see tax increases? + ‘A real crazy mess’ filling Ted Gaines’ seat

BY BRYAN ANDERSON

banderson
https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article222589505.html

Read my lips: No. New. Taxes. Well, maybe not exactly. After speaking with top Democrats, things are a bit more complicated.

CAN WE EXPECT MORE TAXES?

With supermajorities in the Legislature, it will be easier — at least in theory — for Democrats to raise taxes and approve constitutional amendments. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was adamant that tax increases are not on the horizon.

“There’s no plans on the books right now for tax increases,” Rendon said. “There’s no proposals for raising fees, either.”

(Rendon spoke before eight Assembly Democrats introduced Assembly Bill 18 to establish a tax on sales of semi-automatic firearms.)

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins seemed more open to the possibility, saying that “it’s always a matter of discussion.” She expects several bills requiring two-thirds support will be brought to a vote.

“You’re going to see a number of pieces of legislation that are going to be put forward that take a two-thirds vote,” Atkins said. “It’s up for discussion. We will see how our colleagues decide.”

WHO WILL REPLACE TED GAINES?

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, will be leaving his post to join the state’s Board of Equalization. Candidates have started to emerge publicly. Beth Gaines, Ted Gaines’ wife and a former assemblywoman, is expected to run. She has already received thousands of dollars for a 2020 election campaign. Sen. Gaines all but confirmed his wife’s intention to run, saying, “She is very actively engaged in the Senate campaign.” He said he’d happily support his wife’s candidacy.

Assemblymen Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, and Brian Dahle, R-Bieber are running, as is Rex Hime, President and CEO of the California Business Properties Association. Senate Republican Leader Pat Bates said the party will be “working very hard to get a great candidate.”

The district covers a large portion of northern California, stretching from the Oregon border to the Lake Tahoe area. It is a heavily red seat Republicans are expected to win.

“I’m in the Senate,” said Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, “so I’ve got to worry about who replaces Gaines. That’s gonna be a real crazy mess.”

Kiley: AI, Privacy, Cybersecurity

Among Possible 2019 Legislative

Tech Priorities

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley says it’s likely the Legislature will scrutinize law and policy around artificial intelligence in 2019, introduce new legislation on privacy, and monitor state cybersecurity.

BY THEO DOUGLAS

https://www.techwire.net/news/ai-privacy-cybersecurity-among-likely-2019-legislative-priorities.html

Having handily prevailed in his first-ever re-election, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a member of the California Legislative Technology and Innovation Caucus, told Techwire he’s hoping to build on the success of one technology measure in particular which sailed through the Legislature last summer.

Kiley, first elected in 2016, outpolled Democratic challenger Jacalyn “Jackie” Smith by more than 16 percentage points and 30,000 votes on Nov. 6. The Granite Bay Republican said he’s hopeful the Legislature will move forward in 2019 on Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 215 on artificial intelligence. The legislation affirms lawmakers’ support for the 23 Asilomar AI Principles, developed by a group of researchers, economists, ethicists, legal scholars and philosophers in 2017 to guide the responsible development of AI. Kiley introduced the resolution, and both houses passed it unanimously.

Among its 23 precepts, members convened in Asilomar, Calif., said that the goal of AI research should be to create “beneficial intelligence”; that research funding should follow AI investments to ensure its positive use and ask “thorny” questions on law, ethics and computer science; that using AI on personal data shouldn’t curtail real or perceived liberties; and that “an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons should be avoided.”

Kiley, who represents the Sixth Assembly District, said the Legislature will “look at how to build on that” next year and called the matter “very timely” following the recent Little Hoover Commission report on AI — which mentioned Kiley’s resolution.

“We’re exploring a number of ways we might follow up there and really move that conversation forward so the state can take full advantage of the tremendous possibilities of AI,” Kiley said. He could be viewing tech and innovation from the upper house of the Legislature before too much longer; Kiley has announced his intentions to run for the state Senate District 1 seat held by Ted Gaines, who was elected to the State Board of Equalization. The exact timing of a special election awaits Gaines’ expected resignation from the state Senate in January. But a staff member in the office of Assemblyman Evan Low, caucus co-chair, affirmed that because the caucus is bicameral and includes Assembly members and state senators, Kiley would be able to remain a member of the Tech Caucus, as it’s known.

The assemblyman said it’s not yet clear how caucus members will work with incoming Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who will take office in January, and indicated much is “uncertain” about how the state’s new elected leader will approach innovation and technology and what his priorities will be. Kiley said that he thinks his own work on tech in the Assembly has “provided a strong foundation to move forward” and that state senators who were receptive to the 23 principles — he named Sens. Bill Monning, D-Carmel; John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa; and Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara — “would make good partners.”

State cybersecurity remains vitally important as well, particularly as threats and bad actors continue to change course and present new challenges, the legislator said, noting the state has made good progress in ordering its own cybersecurity infrastructure. He pointing to the creation in 2015 by Governor’s Executive Order of the California Cybersecurity Integration Center (Cal-CSIC), charged with improving coordination and strategy and reducing the likelihood and severity of cyberattacks.

Kiley, who is also co-chairman of the Assembly’s privacy committee, said he expects a number of bills to be introduced next year that touch on privacy issues and information security. But he said it will be important for legislators to review proposed policy carefully to avoid “frivolous litigation” that creates vague standards and actually misses the mark on safeguarding privacy.

By the numbers: A look at the 2017-18 Legislature

BY CHRIS MICHELI

http://capitolweekly.net/numbers-look-2017-18-legislature/

With the recently concluded 2017-18 legislative session, it is valuable to look at some of the key data, including bill introductions, the fate of those bills, the work of the committees, the lawmakers’ legislation and the actions of the governor.

So let’s crunch some numbers: We’ll look at the Senate first.

Senate bills
In the Senate, 694 bills were introduced in 2018. Of those, 518 were passed by the Senate, while only six were defeated on the Senate floor. So, 74.6 percent of introduced bills passed out of the Senate, while just 0.8 percent of introduced bills failed passage on the floor.

At the conclusion of 2018, 52 Senate bills had been vetoed during the year—7.5 percent of introduced bills were vetoed—and 356 bills were chaptered in 2018, meaning that 51.3 percent of bills introduced in the Senate were enacted into law.

That brings the total number of Senate bills introduced in the 2017-18 Session to 1,511. Of those, 647 were signed into law (42.8 percent), and 86 were vetoed (5.5 percent).

By way of background, 817 bills were introduced in the Senate in 2017. Of those, 514 bills were passed by the Senate, while only three were refused passage on the Senate floor. So, 63 percent of introduced bills passed out of the Senate, while 0.4 percent of introduced bills failed passage on the Senate floor.

At the conclusion of 2017, 34 Senate bills were vetoed in 2017 (4 percent of introduced bills were vetoed), and 291 bills were chaptered in 2017. That means 35.6 percent of introduced bills were enacted into law.

2018 data: CommitteesIn terms of bills being considered by standing committees in the just-concluded 2018 session, the following five committees had the highest number of original committee references, which means they were the first stop for bills assigned by the Rules Committee:

  • Public Safety, 111
  • Budget, 108
  • Governance & Finance, 105
  • Education, 88
  • Transportation & Housing, 79

The five committees with the highest number of senate bills and assembly bills referred:

  • Education, 313 (88 + 225)
  • Public Safety, 288 (111 + 177)
  • Transportation & Housing, 237 (79 + 158)
  • Health, 226 (77 + 149)
  • Governance & Finance, 223 (105 + 118)

2017 data: CommitteesIn 2017, the three standing committees with the highest number of original committee references were:

  • Education, 166
  • Public Safety, 146
  • Transportation & Housing, 140

The committees with the lowest number of original committee references were:

  • Agriculture, 17
  • Insurance, 19
  • Veterans Affairs, 19

Senate bills and authorship
The most bills introduced during the 2017-18 session were 49 by Jerry Hill, followed by Ricardo Lara with 45.

Eleven senators introduced 40 bills (Cathleen Galgiani, Steve Glazer, Ed Hernandez, Bob Hertzberg, Connie Leyva, John Moorlach, Janet Nguyen, Richard Pan, Anthony Portantino, Mark Stone and Scott Wiener), while five senators introduced 39 bills (Ben Allen, Steven Bradford, Hannah-Beth Jackson, Nancy Skinner and Henry Stern). Senator Bill Dodd introduced 38.

2017 data: AuthorsThe most bills were introduced by Ricardo Lara with 29. Galgiani introduced 28; Jerry Hill had 26; and five senators introduced 24 bills each (Bradford, Glazer, Leyva, Nguyen and Portantino).

Assembly Bills
Some 1,531 bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2018. Of those, 942 bills were passed, and 16 were refused passage. So, 61.5 percent of introduced bills passed out of the Assembly, while just 1 percent of introduced bills failed passage on the Assembly floor.

At the conclusion of the 2018 session, 149 Assembly bills were vetoed during the year (9.7 percent of introduced bills were vetoed), and 660 were chaptered in 2018 (43 percent of introduced bills were enacted into law).

That brings the total number of Assembly bills introduced in the 2017-18 session to 3,264. Of those, 1,228 were signed into law (37.6 percent), and 233 were vetoed (7.1 percent).

As a comparison, 1,733 bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2017. Of those, 970 bills were passed, while only nine were refused passage on the Assembly floor. That left 763 bills as two-year measures which were considered in January 2018. So, 56 percent of introduced bills passed out of the Assembly, while just 0.5 percent of introduced bills failed passage.

At the conclusion of the 2017 session, 84 assembly bills were vetoed (4.8 percent of introduced bills were vetoed), and 568 were chaptered in 2017 (32.7 percent of introduced bills were enacted into law).

2018 data: Assembly policy committees and bills referredIn terms of assembly bills being considered by standing committees in the concluded 2018 session, the five committees with the highest number of original committee references were:

  • Public safety, 294
  • Health, 219
  • Education, 210
  • Transportation, 182
  • Judiciary, 181

The five committees with the total number of assembly and senate bills referred:

  • Public safety, 384 (294 + 90)
  • Health, 300 (219 + 81)
  • Education, 260 (210 + 50)
  • Judiciary, 247 (181 + 66)
  • Transportation, 233 (182 + 51)

2017 data
In terms of bills considered by standing committees in 2017, the committees with the highest number of original committee references were:

  • Public Safety, 195
  • Health, 147
  • Education, 140
  • Judiciary, 133
  • Environmental Safety

The committees with the lowest number of original committee references were: AESTIM (nine), Aging (12), Communications (13) and Banking (18).

For the just-concluded 2017-18 legislative session, in terms of authors and number of bills, the most bills introduced were by Rep. Phil Ting with 102 bills (including budget-related measures).

Seven Assembly members introduced 50 bills (Richard Bloom, Rob Bonta, Autumn Burke, Eduardo Garcia, Gonzalez Fletcher, Marc Levine and Blanca Rubio). Seven assembly members had 49 bills (Joaquin Arambula, Anna Caballero, Monique Limó, Evan Low, Bill Quirk, Miguel Santiago and Jim Wood), and three assembly members introduced 48 bills (Mike Gipson, Jacqui Irwin and Patrick O’Donnell).

In terms of authors and bills in 2017, the most bills were introduced by Ting with 78 (but that number included the budget trailer bills). Thereafter, Bloom introduced 32 bills; Rep. Sharon Quirk-Silva introduced 31; Levine introduced 30; and, four assembly members introduced 29 bills each (Caballero, Frazier, Gipson and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher).

Actions on bills by the governor
There were 1,217 bills that reached the governor’s desk in 2018 out of 2,225 bills introduced (Senate, 694; Assembly 1,531). So, 55 percent of the bills introduced made it to the governor’s desk. Forty-five percent of the bills introduced got signed into law, while 9 nine of the bills introduced got vetoed.

Signed bills: 1,016

  • 5 percent of the bills were signed
  • 65 percent of the signed bills were assembly bills
  • 79 percent of the assembly bills were authored by Democrats
  • 14 percent of the assembly bills signed were authored by Republicans
  • 7 percent of the assembly bills were committee bills
  • 35 percent of the signed bills were senate bills
  • 77 percent of the senate bills signed were authored by Democrats
  • 13 percent of the senate bills signed were authored by Republicans
  • 10 percent of the senate bills signed were committee bills

Vetoed bills: 201

  • 5 percent of the bills were vetoed
  • 74 percent of the vetoed bills were assembly bills
  • 84 percent of those vetoed bills authored by Democrats
  • 13 percent of the assembly bills vetoed were authored by Republicans
  • 3 percent of the assembly bills vetoed were committee bills
  • 26 percent of the vetoed bills were senate bills
  • 94 percent of the senate bills vetoed were authored by Democrats
  • 6 percent of the senate bills vetoed were authored by Republicans

During the 2017 session, 1,733 total bills were introduced in the Assembly (1,687 by the Feb. 17 introduction deadline). About 37.5 percent of the introduced bills got to the governor’s desk, with 32.7 percent of the introduced bills getting signed, and 4.8 percent getting vetoed.

A total of 817 total bills were introduced in the Senate in 2017 (808 by the Feb. 17 introduction deadline), while 39.9 percent of the introduced bills got to the governor’s desk with 35.7 percent of the introduced bills getting signed and 4.2 percent getting vetoed.

In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown acted on 977 bills that were on his desk during that session. He signed 859 bills (88 percent) and he vetoed 12 percent of those bills (118 out of 977 bills).

In 2017, of the 859 bills that the governor signed, 567 were Assembly bills and 292 were Senate bills. Of the 567 Assembly bills, 85 percent were authored by Democrats and 15 percent were authored by Republicans. Of the 292 Senate measures signed into law, 86 percent were authored by Democrats, and 14 percent were authored by Republicans.

In 2017, of the 118 bills that the governor vetoed, 84 were Assembly bills, and 34 were Senate bills. Of the 84 Assembly bills that were vetoed, 87 percent were authored by Democrats, and 13 percent were authored by Republicans. Of the 34 Senate bills, 82 percent were authored by Democrats, and 18 percent were authored by Republicans.

In 2016, Gov. Brown acted on 789 bills that were on his desk during September. He vetoed roughly 18.25 percent of those, and he allowed one bill to become law without his signature. Including all the bills acted upon during the 2016 session, the governor vetoed 159 out of 1,059 bills, a 15 percent veto rate.

Governor’s vetoes: Historical data
To put this year’s gubernatorial bill actions in context, here are veto numbers from five prior governors.

  • Between 2011 and 2018, Brown vetoed between 10.7 percent and 16.5 percent of the bills
  • Between 2004 and 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed between 22.2 percent and 35 percent of the bills
  • Between 1999 and 2003, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed between 6 percent and 25 percent of the bills
  • Between 1991 and 1998, Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed between 8.6 percent and 24.5 percent of the bills
  • Between 1983 and 1990, Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed between 9.5 percent and 20.3 percent of the bills
  • Between 1975 and 1982, Brown vetoed between 1.8 percent and 7.9 percent of the bills

Bills getting to the governor’s desk: Historical data
During the last eight years that Gov. Brown has served in office, the number of bills reaching his desk has ranged from a low of 870 bills during his first year in office to a high of 1,217, his final year in office. His veto rate has been a low of 10.7 percent (his third year in office) to a high of 16.5 percent (his last year in office).

To put Brown’s actions in context, here are actions by Brown and five prior governors.

  • Between 2004 and 2010, Schwarzenegger got between 893 and 1,265 bills on his desk
  • Between 1999 and 2003, Davis got between 967 and 1,454 bills on his desk
  • Between 1991 and 1998, Wilson got between 1,075 and 1,710 bills on his desk
  • Between 1983 and 1990, Deukmejian got between 1,455 and 2,143 bills on his desk
  • Between 1975 and 1982, Brown got between 1,221 and 1,674 bills on his desk

Total bill introductions: Historical data, year by year
2017: 2,495
2016: 1,993
2015: 2,297
2014: 1,930
2013: 2,256

Total bill introductions: Two-year sessions over two decades
2017-18: 3,624 Assembly bills, 1,511 Senate bills (4,775 total)
2015-16: 2,915 ABs and 1,481 SBs (4,396 total)
2013-14: 2,766 ABs and 1,467 SBs (4,233 total)
2011-12: 2,700 ABs and 1,580 SBs (4,280 total)
2009-10: 2,799 ABs and 1,495 SBs (4,294 total)
2007-08: 3,084 ABs and 1,781 SBs (4,865 total)
2005-06: 3,076 ABs and 1,853 SBs (4,929 total)
2003-04: 3,118 ABs and 1,918 SBs (5,036 total)
2001-02: 3,061 ABs and 2,101 SBs (5,162 total)
1999-00: 2,943 ABs and 2,206 SBs (5,149 total)
1997-98: 2,817 ABs and 2,242 SBs (5,059 total)
1995-96: 3,504 ABs and 2,178 SBs (5,682 total)
1993-94: 3,838 ABs and 2,138 SBs (5,976 total)

Editor’s Note: Chris Micheli is a principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He may be contacted at (916) 448-3075.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — 2019-20 Session Underway — December 4, 2018

I flew up to Sacramento on Sunday for meetings with the Senate Republican Caucus and dinner with the 2019-20 Senate members, a biennial tradition.

On Monday, the newly elected and re-elected Senators from the even-numbered districts were sworn in. After staff meetings, I flew home late last evening. During the moments before the ceremony, I was caught by the LA Times and provided the comment in the first piece below. It also gives you the flavor of the day and what to expect in the coming year.

I did agree to co-author a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) on building affordable housing along transit lines. But, with the success of AB 448 earlier this year, I want to continue the effort to find the housing units needed to address Orange County’s homeless crisis. Urbanize LA provides the details in the second piece below. (Reviewing the legislative process over the 2017-2018 Legislative Session and beyond will be the subject of tomorrow’s UPDATE.)

Other activities have also been occurring outside the Capitol on their own. Carl DeMaio is pursuing another statewide ballot measure that would restructure the way California’s transportation money is allocated. It looks like an editorial writer for StreetsBlog California is not happy about it and decided to take snipes at both Carl and me in the third piece below.

The writer has worked in the public sector in the transportation sector and has an obvious bias. But, she has to overlook so many flaws, many of which I have provided over the time since I arrived at the Capitol in March of 2015.

I really wish I could be a promoter of California’s Department of Transportation, but like the High Speed Rail Authority and the DMV, Caltrans is just not achieving the management metrics you and I could be proud of.

California’s Legislature convenes as a record number of Democrats settle in to govern

By JOHN MYERS , JAZMINE ULLOA and PATRICK MCGREEVY

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-california-legislature-convenes-20181203-story.html

A bumper crop of Democrats convened Monday in the California Legislature, the largest group in the state’s modern history, swept into office by an electoral flood that could create a significant change on big-ticket issues including healthcare and child poverty.

Sixty Democrats joined the Assembly, making up three-quarters of the lower house’s membership and the party’s largest caucus in the chamber since 1883. In the 40-member Senate, 29 lawmakers are Democrats, a high-water mark reached just once before in more than half a century.

Leaders of both houses urged their colleagues to move away from campaigning and toward governing, with a number of pressing issues to tackle in the two-year legislative session ahead.

“I challenge each of you to search within yourselves this session, to find the urgency we will need to match the tasks before us,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said in opening remarks.

How the historically large contingent of Democrats will govern alongside Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, is likely to depend on which issues they prioritize among the scores of bills formally introduced on Monday. Although some lawmakers represent decidedly liberal communities in California’s sprawling urban landscape, others won in districts that were represented by Republicans as recently as the summer — in some cases, that GOP dominance spanned decades.

For Republicans, whose total legislative representation in the new session could fit inside a couple of passenger vans, the path forward could be challenging.

“I’d like to say that I surfed the blue wave and I landed on the shore, and I’m here to continue my work,” Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) said in remarks during the swearing-in session, drawing laughter from her colleagues.

Practically speaking, their small numbers will require each member to take on extra work to fill the GOP’s allotted spots on legislative committees. More broadly, however, Republican legislators must search for relevance in policy debates where their votes aren’t needed.

“I’m still going through the 12 steps of grief,” Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) quipped.

Republicans must also decide how to interpret the election results — either as the product of a nationalized midterm election under an unpopular GOP president, or as a deeper repudiation of the party’s brand and platform. One Republican, San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, took the oath of office without yet knowing whether he had retained his seat, his lead shrinking as votes continue to be counted.

Still, Monday’s ceremonial kickoff to the legislative session — after which lawmakers adjourned until Jan. 7 — was marked by camaraderie, not confrontation. New lawmakers’ family members mingled and hugged, posing for photos. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) brought his twin infants with him, wearing matching sweater vests; Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica) took the oath of office while holding a carrier with his newborn inside. Later, a number of lawmakers gathered with friends for private parties across downtown Sacramento.

It was also an emotional day given the hardships many Californians are facing. Both houses acknowledged a number of deadly events in recent months. Newsom, presiding over the Senate for the final time as lieutenant governor, led the chamber in a moment of silence for those killed in the Camp and Woolsey fires.

Emotional, too, was the call for action in setting the agenda for the year ahead. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) took aim at the oft-repeated maxim of California’s “exceptionalism,” telling lawmakers that poverty and the affordable housing crisis have tarnished the state’s reputation.

“We cannot make housing affordable for the masses when the 1% are earning hundreds and thousands of times” what the average worker makes, Rendon said to applause.

Two Democratic senators announced an early effort on that front, introducing a bill to restore affordable housing funding for local governments that was lost when the state abolished redevelopment agencies in 2011.

“We have an opportunity to establish a renewed partnership between the state and cities, with strict accountability measures, to ensure more affordable housing gets built,” state Sen. James Beall Jr. (D-San Jose) said in a written statement.

Others urged lawmakers to embrace the results of a far-reaching study released last month that called for $1.6 billion in additional spending to combat child poverty. A Fresno assemblyman, Democrat Joaquin Arambula, pledged to reintroduce a plan to extend Medi-Cal coverage to all California residents without legal immigration status. Both efforts would be expensive and could test the boundaries of a state budget that has ample cash reserves but has largely avoided the kinds of program expansions that would continue even in the presence of a recession and budget shortfalls.

“I think working people’s issues have to be what we address,” newly elected Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) said, adding later that the resounding win for Democrats was “a call for government to fill human needs — and human needs means shelter, a place to live; it means that from a job you can do everything that you aspire to do.”

Lawmakers also introduced bills to implement universal preschool and new mental health services in the state, and to extend the time to file workplace harassment claims. Another new proposal aims to bolster a spring ruling by the California Supreme Court that limited the power of companies to classify workers as independent contractors, ensuring a heated battle with the business industry.

And new gun-related laws were proposed a month after a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, including a bill to tax the sale of semiautomatic firearms — the revenue would fund violence prevention programs in California. A second bill, vetoed in the prior session by Gov. Jerry Brown, would allow teachers, employers and co-workers to ask judges to remove guns from people they believe to be a danger to the public.

National politics were not completely absent during the opening events, though not as dominant a presence as it was in 2016 when Democrats were visibly shaken by the election of President Trump. Rendon chastised Trump during his speech Monday for the decision to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to immigration fears — what he said was an assignment “to do nothing but posture.”

“My worst fears have not yet materialized, but the federal reality has been quite bad enough,” Rendon said of Trump.

Members of the Asian Pacific Islander, Latino and Jewish legislative caucuses introduced a resolution that denounced a Trump administration proposal to restrict green cards for those likely to receive public assistance, calling it “classist” and “racist.” Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, said it would force “immigrant families to make impossible choices.”

The newly elected members of the Legislature marked a few milestones just by winning office. Twenty-three women — more than one-quarter of the house — now serve in the Assembly, and all but two of them are Democrats. The Legislature, where brothers have served at the same time, now has its first sister act: Baldwin Park Democrats Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio and Sen. Susan Rubio. And with members now eligible to serve longer in a single house — a change brought about by a 2012 ballot measure — the Legislature is welcoming its smallest freshman class since after the 1988 election cycle.

Newsom, who will find himself sparring with many of the new members when he becomes governor, urged lawmakers to move quickly to the work at hand.

“Let us not forget why you are here. And that’s not to be something, but to do something,” he said.

Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.

California State Senator

Introduces New Bill to Boost

Housing Construction Near

Transit

SB 50 would incentivize apartments in transit-rich

and job-rich areas.

STEVEN SHARP

https://urbanize.la/post/california-state-senator-introduces-new-bill-boost-housing-construction-near-transit

Seven months after a prior attempt died in committee, California State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced new legislation which revives an effort to boost housing construction near transit lines across the state.

Senate Bill 50, dubbed the "More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability Act" – or "More HOMES" Act – is co-authored by State Senators Ben Hueso, Anna Bacallero, Nancy Skinner, and John Moorlach as well as Assemblymembers Autumn Burke, Buffy Wicks, Phil Ting, Ash Kalra, Evan Low, Kevin Riley, and Robert Rivas. Informed by the fate of its predecessor SB 827, which was criticized as a "one size fits all" approach to zoning, SB 50 is less heavy-handed, creating an "equitable communities incentive" that can supersede local restrictions on a project-by-project basis, much in the vein of the California’s existing density bonus law and Los Angeles’ Transit Oriented Communities program. The revived effort also takes more care to address the concerns of communities fearing displacement and gentrification, the initial lack of which contributed to SB 827’s early demise.

“We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Senator Scott Wiener in a release. “California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy. It also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones. As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities. I am excited work with a diverse coalition to spur the development of more housing for all income levels while protecting vulnerable communities and ensuring we do more to address climate change.”

If signed into law, SB 50 would waive allow for the construction of apartments near "high-quality transit" – meaning within a half-mile of a rail station or a quarter-mile of a bus stop with frequent service – and also in job-rich areas – which are identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research. Developments located within a half-mile radius of a transit stop, but outside of a quarter-mile radius, would be eligible for waivers from height limits less than 45 feet and FAR limits of 2.5-to-1. Developments located within a quarter-mile radius of a transit stop would be eligible for waivers for height requirements under 55 feet and FAR limits of 3.25-to-1. According to a release from the advocacy organization California YIMBY, this effectively amounts to four- and five-story buildings.

These projects would be achieved by requiring the local land use authority – be it a city or a county – to grant an equitable communities incentive to projects that meet the above criteria. This includes a waiver of maximum controls on density and automobile parking requirements greater than .5 spaces per residential unit, and up to three additional incentives or concessions from the existing density bonus law. Local jurisdictions would be free to modify their implementation of the program, as long as they remain consistent with the intentions of the SB 50

Unlike SB 827, which only saw the addition of tenant protections and affordable housing requirements after introduction, SB 50 is starting out with a similar list of provisions.

Sites occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of application – including housing that has been demolished or vacated prior to the application – would be ineligible for the incentives, as would properties in which tenants have been evicted through the Ellis Act within the past 15 years.

Additionally, any applicant seeking equitable community incentives for a development would be required to provide affordable housing at either the low-, very low-, or extremely low-income levels at the same levels set under the State density bonus law.

The inclusion of job-rich communities in the revised bill is a response to critics of SB 827, many of whom argued that most transit-rich areas are working-class neighborhoods vulnerable to displacement. Under SB 50, the equitable communities incentives would be available to properties in these job-rich areas – with access to high-quality amenities and schools – even without the presence of rail or high-frequency bus lines.

A more nebulous aspect of the proposed legislation is delayed implementation in sensitive communities, which are defined as those vulnerable to displacement pressure based on indicators such as the percentage of tenant households living at or under the regional poverty line. These communities would see a delayed implementation of SB 50, allowing for a neighborhood-level planning process to develop zoning rules and other policies to encourage multifamily housing development. However, it is unclear what form these rules or policies would take.

Also in response to proponents of local control, SB 50 would not alter any jurisdiction’s current community engagement and design review processes, nor would it change any labor or employment standards for new construction. Any existing ban on housing demolition – consistent with the state’s Housing Accountability Act – would remain in place, and local governments would retain the right to set height limits for new housing outside of areas with access to rail transit.

Likewise, any local requirements for on-site affordable housing that exceed those proposed in SB 50 would be honored.

Similarly, eligibility for any local programs to encourage housing construction near transit – such as the Transit Oriented Communities guidelines in Los Angeles – would make a project ineligible for the equitable communities incentives.

The new legislation comes as California finds itself with an estimated shortage of 3.5 million homes, and calls from incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to close that gap. Bill proponents note that the recent wildfires have only exacerbated the problem, and argue that the solution is to encourage more development in urban cores, rather than on the suburban fringer.

SB 50 is also billed as an opportunity to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by shortening commutes and encouraging transit use and active transportation by placing people in close proximity to major job centers. A recent report from the California Air Resources Board found that the state will fall short of its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 unless its residents dramatically reduce vehicle travel.

Prop 6 Proponents Introduce Anti-High Speed Rail Initiative

DeMaio also wants to shift all responsibility for state highways to local governments

https://cal.streetsblog.org/2018/12/03/prop-6-proponents-introduce-anti-high-speed-rail-initiative/

Carl DeMaio just won’t go away quietly. After the trouncing of his Proposition 6, which would have repealed the recent increase in gas taxes and caused other mayhem with California’s transportation funding, DeMaio is back with another attempt to screw up the transportation system and end what little progress has been made.

His new initiative, just cleared by the California Secretary of the State to begin collecting signatures, would “remove responsibility and funding for state highway construction and maintenance from the state” and put it in the hands of local governments.

Oh, also: the initiative would kill the California High Speed Rail Project by terminating its funding.

It’s no secret that DeMaio has it out for Caltrans, and would love to take away the department’s funding, but this initiative is ridiculous. Sure, local governments would appreciate the boost in funding, but does any city want to take on the responsibility of maintaining the state highway system? Local agencies also absolutely do not have the capacity to take on the extra work–but DeMaio has the solution to that. The initiative would require that highway construction work be done “by private, non-governmental entities.”

Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) has been putting forward these same ideas since he got into office several years ago. Caltrans is inefficient, and therefore its work should be done by private contractors, he says. High-speed rail is a boondoggle and ought to be killed, according to Moorlach. Luckily, his legislative attempts to gut Caltrans and high-speed rail never got anywhere.

Moorlach and DeMaio and their ilk don’t really care about efficiency or improving transportation or any of the things Californians actually care about. What they want is no-strings-attached money going to fatter, faster highways unimpeded by state concerns. They want to get rid of transit because “nobody rides it” and they want to ensure that the only way to get anywhere is by private vehicle, thus guaranteeing that the congestion they say they are worried about grows exponentially into the future.

Imagine what a patchwork the state highway system would become if all planning and maintenance work were the responsibility of local governments. Imagine the crush of future congestion if no one could choose to take transit anywhere, because what little of it exists is even slower and more disconnected than it is today. Imagine a future without a world-class rail line, where the only way to get anywhere in California is via ever-increasingly congested highways of varying widths and conditions.

That’s a big nope.

DeMaio has until May to collect enough signatures to put this on the 2020 ballot. Because it proposes a constitutional amendment, it needs more signatures than a regular initiative–in this case, 585,407 signatures of registered voters–to qualify. Once on the ballot, it would only need a simple majority vote to pass.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Los Angeles County School Districts — December 2, 2018

We’ve been covering Southern California counties with editorial submissions on their local school districts. Today we discuss Los Angeles County. It is provided in the Los Angeles Daily News in the piece below. It’s also available on the OC Register’s website. As you may gather from a couple of the themes, it was submitted near the end of October.

LA County hosts the second largest school district in the nation, Los Angeles Unified School District. And, it gets its share of coverage by the LA Times. Its financial situation has commanded headlines for some time. We recently pointed out that all of the 27 school districts in Orange County combined were in better fiscal shape than LAUSD (see MOORLACH UPDATE — LAUSD vs. OC School Districts — September 18, 2018).

We’re also seeing that our study of the state’s school districts is being reviewed by school district superintendents and they are concerned about the fiscal condition of their districts and are taking steps to address their balance sheets (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Christmas Reflections — November 30, 2018). This link also provides the invitation flyer for our December 6th Christmas Open House (see BONUS below).

BONUS: You’re invited to visit our District Office for our annual Christmas Open House. The event will be held this Thursday, December 6th, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. My entire staff will be there to give you an education on what we have been doing and plan on accomplishing in the new year. Dress is Christmas comfortable. (Wearing a Reyn Spooner Christmas shirt will get you an extra cookie.)

OPINION

All Los Angeles County school districts but one bleed red ink

By JOHN MOORLACH

https://www.dailynews.com/2018/12/01/all-los-angeles-county-school-districts-but-one-bleed-red-ink/

https://www.ocregister.com/2018/12/01/all-los-angeles-county-school-districts-but-one-bleed-red-ink/

Of Los Angeles County’s 80 public school districts, only one boasts a positive balance sheet, Gorman Joint School District. Unfortunately, the other 79 school districts have balance sheets that bleed red ink.

The scoring comes as part of my new report, “Financial Soundness Rankings for California’s Public School Districts, Colleges & Universities.” It reviews the financial soundness of all 944 California public school districts. I performed a similar review of California’s 482 cities back in March.

The rankings derive from each district’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which you can find on their respective websites. In each CAFR, look for the “Basic Financial Statements,” starting with the page titled “Statement of Net Position.” Look at the top row for “Government Activities.” Then look down the column to where it says, first “Net Position,” then “Unrestricted.” That’s the number you want: the Unrestricted Net Position, or UNP.

The number will either be positive or, with parentheses around it, negative.

I also divide the UNP by the district’s population to get a per-capita UNP. If negative, that’s the amount each person in the district is in hock for, whether or not your children attend school. Citizens should be concerned about the trajectory of these negative balances, which are commonly attributed to unfunded pension liabilities. As school board members are auditioning for their jobs, they need to be held accountable for dealing with these liabilities.

If the negative number runs too high too long, it will mean cuts in teachers, equipment, band and sports, and ultimately calls for tax increases. In the worst cases, takeover by the state, even bankruptcy, is not out of the question.

Gorman Joint enjoyed a positive UNP per capita of $5,716, the fourth best in California. Outstanding.

Unfortunately, the good news ends there. The remaining 79 districts dip into the red. Second “best” in L.A. County is Hermosa City Beach Elementary at ($292), 210th best in the state. Third was Lowell Joint Unified School District at ($356), 247th best in the state. Fourth was Whittier Union High at ($374), 258th best in California; its most famous alumnus was President Richard Nixon – all of whose federal budgets, perhaps coincidentally, also ran red ink.

Just 18 of the county’s 80 districts were in the top half of California’s 944 districts.

What’s frightening as we approach Halloween is the bottom of the list. Worst is Wiseburn Unified at ($3,750), ranked 938 of 944 California districts; followed by El Segundo Unified ($2,541), for 930th place; and giant Los Angeles Unified at ($2,315), for 922nd place.

But what really will keep you up at night are the UNPs of the largest districts by population. LA Unified scares at ($10.9 billion). Second worst is Long Beach Unified at ($564 million). In third is William S. Hart Union High School District at ($247 million).

Let’s look a little closer at how the City of Angels is also the city of ungodly deficits. From my earlier report, the city of LA’s UNP is ($6.6 billion) and its per capita UNP is ($1,628). That ranks it 451st out of the state’s 482 cities. And for comparison, LA County’s UNP is ($18.7 billion) and its per capita UNP is ($1,829), 47th of California’s 58 counties.

Los Angeles’ Big 3 – the county, city and unified school district – report $36.2 billion in combined deficits. As with the city and county of Los Angeles, the problem with LA County school budget deficits largely rests with excessive pension costs.

Here are the per capita UNPs for the 10 best districts, the best on top:

1. Gorman Joint                                         $5,716

2. Hermosa Beach City Elementary       ($ 292)

3. Lowell Joint                                            ($ 356)

4. Whittier Union High                             ($ 374)

5. El Monte Union High                            ($ 398)

6. Bellflower Unified                                 ($ 418)

7. Alhambra Unified                                  ($ 438)

8. Antelope Valley Union High                ($ 490)

9. Newhall School District                        ($ 512)

10. Rosemead Elementary                        ($ 521)

And here are the per capita UNPs of the 10 lowest-scoring districts, worst to “less” bad.

· 80. Wiseburn Unified                             ($3,750)

· 79. El Segundo Unified                           ($2,541)

· 78. Los Angeles Unified                          ($2,315)

· 77. Duarte Unified                                   ($2,277)

· 76. Beverly Hills Unified                         ($2,189)

· 75. Lennox School District                      ($2,176)

· 74. South Pasadena Unified                    ($1,969)

· 73. Las Virgenes Unified                          ($1,963)

· 72. Montebello Unified                             ($1,783)

· 71. ABC Unified                                          ($1,755)

Next year is going to be especially revealing – and distressing – as the Governmental Accounting Standards Board for the first time will require balance sheets to include unfunded retiree medical liabilities, which will show even more city and school districts in critical condition.

And when the next economic recession hits, for even those modestly distressed, it’s going to be one big financial train wreck.

Let’s hope our elected school board members and their administrative staff get in front of this serious cash management squeeze on their horizon. It’s time to be proactive, as taxpayers are not very forgiving with those who are reactive. Especially with supposed leaders who only have one solution: raise taxes.

John M.W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents the 37th District in the California Senate

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Christmas Reflections — November 30, 2018

Now that we are in the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, it gives me an opportunity to reflect on whom I am thankful. With so many wonderful individuals who have helped me on so many critical fronts, it is difficult to call out just one person. But, allow me the privilege to acknowledge one of my legislative warriors.

The city of Laguna Beach has a real gift in Councilman Bob Whalen. Bob is a public finance legal specialist and I’ve known him since my OC Treasurer days. Bob called me in 2016 with a bill proposal. I informed him that the bill deadline was only two hours away and asked if he had something already written. My staff was dubious that anything would come of such a complicated proposal. They were less sure that an already busy local elected official would put in the requisite time to make the bill a success. But he did. It became SB 1463.

It’s one thing to give me a bill idea, it’s another to work it. If people want to know how to earnestly work a bill, they should look no further than Bob Whalen and the rest of the top-level staff all across the City of Laguna Beach. They take their jobs to protect their constituents very seriously and I was thankful to have them as allies. They provided voluminous background and support documents. They traveled to Sacramento to talk to all the consultants and members of the legislature that would let them in the door.

Bob testified at the Committee hearings, which included Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications, Senate Natural Resources and Water, Assembly Utilities and Commerce, and Assembly Natural Resources.

Laguna Beach had suffered from tragic wildfires and addressing one possible cause was a righteous pursuit. The Legislators up and down the state had observed similar tragedies and voted in support.

Bob brought his foresight, expertise, drive and connections. In the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee meeting, he bantered with the Chair and his old friend, Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

After all of the work that went into SB 1463, it was a heartbreak to receive Gov. Brown’s veto.

In the two years subsequent, we’ve seen horrific fires started by electric power lines generating the sparks that started the conflagrations. Bob Whalen was prescient. And the proposed remedies are still required.

Although Governor Brown vetoed this now obviously very necessary bill, Bob is still messaging for the need to address utility lines in wildfire zones (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Black Malibu — November 23, 2018 and https://youtu.be/Hh115Rww21A).

Councilman Whalen provides his perspectives in The Sacramento Bee, which is the first piece below.

San Diego County’s school districts are still reacting to my Unrestricted Net Position study of California’s 944 school districts. It has generated the necessary buzz to get school superintendents to take a closer look at their district’s balance sheets. The Valley Roadrunner provides another perspective in the second piece below.

For additional resources, see:

* MOORLACH UPDATE — School Districts of San Diego County — November 16, 2018

* MOORLACH UPDATE — San Diego County School Districts — November 7, 2018.
* MOORLACH UPDATE — Public Schools Financial Crisis — November 3, 2018.

I want to compliment Superintendent Ron McCowan of the Valley Center Pauma Unified School District. Rather than deny that there is a problem, or directly challenge the bounds of the study, he gave serious consideration to the research and asked his staff to review and respond. He could have easily brushed the study off and justified their position, but I think that he will be earnest in doing the things necessary to right their fiscal ship. And this is the goal of the research we pursued.

I urge other superintendents and school business officials to do the same. If they think that the numbers poorly reflect their financial position or they have legitimate reasons why they might be in the shape they are in, then it is up to them to justify it to their residents. Come next year, the numbers are likely to be worse once they add in some of their other unfunded liabilities as related to their retiree healthcare costs, which are likely considerable.

A warning. If we have any hiccups in the economy in the near future, education funding usually takes a hit because of the complicated funding formulas of Proposition 98. So while the revenues may be fine now to cover the regular costs, the liability payments could easily outstrip their non-obligated funds.

BONUS: You’re invited to visit our District Office for our annual Christmas Open House. The event will be held on December 6th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dress is Christmas comfortable. Wearing a Reyn Spooner Christmas shirt will get you an extra cookie. The invitation is the third piece below.

SOAPBOX

Why won’t California bury its power lines?

BY BOB WHALEN

Special to The Sacramento Bee
https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article222387335.html

I started pushing for Southern California’s regional utility to bury its power lines three years ago, after the fourth utility-caused fire in a decade hit Laguna Beach, where I was mayor.

Our fruitless efforts took us from meetings with Southern California Edison to the state Capitol to a regulator’s doorstep. The utility has pushed back at every turn, citing the high cost of burying power lines even as utility-sparked wildfires have taken scores of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Cal Fire found PG&E’s overhead utility equipment responsible for 17 Northern California fires that burned 190,000 acres in 2017, destroying over 3,200 structures and claiming 22 lives.

Now the Camp Fire, likely sparked by utility lines, has decimated the town of Paradise, taking 13,000 buildings and more than 80 lives.

Southern California Edison admitted its equipment sparked the 2017 Thomas Fire that burned over 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroying more than 1,000 buildings and claiming 2 lives.

The utility companies say they will keep us safe by shutting off power in high winds and aggressively trimming vegetation. Clearly, that’s not working.

The City of Laguna Beach asked SCE to bury lines in the area and offered to pay part of the cost. The proposal would have protected residents and would have cost SCE less than it might have to pay if its equipment sparks a fire that burns even 100 homes in our city, according to our estimates. But the utility said it didn’t pencil out, preferring to insure against the risk of loss from wildfires.

We approached Senator John Moorlach, who introduced Senate Bill 1463, which would have required utilities to bury lines in the highest-risk areas when local governments were willing to help.

The bill was watered down after pushback from the utilities and their lobbyists, but would still have strengthened oversight from the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Fire.

The bill passed, but Governor Brown vetoed it, suggesting we take our concerns to CPUC.

The agency eventually classified most of our city as being at the highest level of fire risk, but hasn’t mandated undergrounding or set aside money for the highest-risk areas.

On its website, PG&E states that it costs $3 million a mile to bury lines, about four times the cost of an overhead system. But some estimates put the utility companies’ potential liability for the 2017 and 2018 fires at more than $20 billion — enough to bury many hundreds of miles of lines.

Leaders in Sacramento need to intervene to stop the shortsighted decision-making by our utility companies and require them to bury lines in heavily populated, high-risk fire zones.

SCE recently requested a $582 million rate increase that dedicates not one dollar to burying lines. The state is projected to have a $30 billion reserve by the end of the next fiscal year. A portion should be dedicated to undergrounding in the most vulnerable areas. The state should require utility companies to draw the rest from shareholders, not ratepayers.

Lawmakers should create an independent body of experts to regulate wildfire safety, similar to the way airlines and automobiles are regulated.

The human toll, health effects, economic costs and environmental degradation of utility-caused fires make a strong case for undergrounding. Governor-Elect Newsom should take this step to reduce the number and intensity of California wildfires.

Robert Whalen is a city council member and former mayor of Laguna Beach. His email address is bobwhalen1.

Valley Center named one of worst school districts in County in terms of “financial soundness”

By DAVID ROSS

https://www.valleycenter.com/articles/valley-center-named-one-of-worst-school-districts-in-county-in-terms-of-financial-soundness/

A study ranking schools according to the “financial soundness,” something many of them have never considered before, is causing a stir all over San Diego County school districts. “I’ve certainly never seen a study like this before,” admitted Jon Petersen, chief business officer for the Valley Center Pauma Unified School District.

Petersen and his boss, Supt. Ron McCowan have reason to be looking at a new study released by State Senator John M.W. Moorlachentitled “Financial Soundness Rankings for California’s Public School Districts, Colleges & Universities,” which reviewed the financial soundness of all 944 California public school districts. Because it names the Valley Center Pauma Unified School District as among the highest (and therefore worst) in S.D. County in terms of how much each person living in the district “is in hock for, whether or not you attend school.” It’s also at a pretty bad ranking for the state as a whole: ranking 894 out of 940.

Moorlach’s study uses a term called a UNP or “unrestricted net position,” which he uses to rank the school districts in California.

Of course, “bad” and “good” are somewhat meaningless terms for this kind of data, since it apparently has no bearing on, say, how much operating funds the district has, or how much it pays its teachers.

It might be compared to a home owner who is underwater in his loan. Unless he needs to suddenly sell his home, or, heaven forbid, it burns down, he won’t be affected.

Moorlach thinks it’s pretty serious however. He writes: “About two-thirds of California’s 944 public school districts run negative balance sheets. This simple metric shows the most distressed districts could soon reach a tipping point into insolvency and receivership.”

Moorlach knows a thing or two about government entities going into receivership. As he writes: “Analyzing CAFRs is not a new exercise for me. What’s new is expanding the universe of those we’re reviewing. It started with California counties while I served as a supervisor for Orange County.”

Senator Moorlach is considered something of a financial genius by fellow lawmakers. He’s the one who brought Orange County out of bankruptcy when he was its treasurer-tax collector.

San Diego County Office of Education itself does rather well in the report, ranking tenth out of the state’s 58 county offices of education. On the other hand, San Diego Community College district ranks 47th out of 72 districts.

Moorlach’s study can be found at moorlach.cssrc.us/sites/default/files/181002_CASchoolCAFRReport.pdf

“He’s got us taking a look at it. We don’t want to be on the lowest part of anything,” said Supt. Ron McCowan when The Roadrunner called him to ask about the study. “We want to figure it out, and should we try to climb out of it. We need to figure out exactly what it is.”

After McCowan did some research on Moorlach’s study, he sent the newspaper a statement on the district’s response:

State Senator John Moorlach’s analysis provides insight into the challenges facing all school districts in light of future liabilities for post-employment benefits and pensions. He focuses on the unrestricted net position of school districts, which is not an income statement, but rather a balance statement, which reflects the district’s assets minus its liabilities.

“Recent new rules required for government agencies require us to report pension liabilities and other post-employment benefits on our balance sheets. This drove us further into a negative position, just as it has done for most school districts.

“This balance sheet issue, however, won’t have much immediate impact on our district’s operations. The growth in negative net position is unlikely to impact our programs and services. Our structural budget deficit, which also faces most districts, is our more immediate concern. We will be developing budget reduction proposals to address next year’s budget, which will also help with the long-term negative net position issue.

“We were surprised to read about Valley Center-Pauma’s relative ranking according to Sen. John Moorlach’s analysis. His approach to dividing the net position by the number of residents in the school district may be putting districts with large numbers of students relative to their overall population at a disadvantage in relative rankings. It would be interesting to evaluate net position by average daily attendance as well.

“Our auditors will be providing revised balance sheet data within the next month. We will be taking a deep dive with our auditors into the data to determine if any changes are warranted relative to the practices of other school districts. We will also work with the San Diego County Office of Education for their guidance, as we always do.”

McCowan added that “most of our buildings are paid for and depreciated, and so don’t show up as assets. Jon is talking to the auditor to get figures specific to us. It kind of sounds to me like it caught everybody off guard. It’s not a computation that is looked at normally.”

Two years the district took out a $5 million loan to pay for more efficient lighting and air conditioning units. “I’m sure that’s listed as a liability,” said McCowan.

In January is the new audit that will have the new numbers. At that time McCowan and his financial people will know better what the a UNP is and how it figures into the district’s basic fiscal health.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — The Gift of Hardening Measures — November 29, 2018

When I left the private sector and moved into the public sector on March 17, 1995, as a result of the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing by the County of Orange on December 6, 1994, I stepped into an arena that had a gift ban. You couldn’t even accept a cup of coffee. The ordinance would be modified eventually to allow for gifts of $5 or less to avoid the coffee or other beverage awkwardness.

I spend significant personal funds every year to pay for my breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I do not accept gifts. When someone doing business with the state informs me that, because I ate an appetizer, they are allocating a portion of their entire event to me, I quickly write a check to that vendor for the amount.

Fortunately, receptions in Sacramento have a sign-in sheet that allows me to state that I am not eating or drinking anything, only visiting. Attending and not imbibing is not a gift.

This brings us to today’s topic. Working with utilities was an ordinary and necessary component of doing county business while I served as a Supervisor. Maintaining business relationships with Southern California Edison, Sempra, Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric was part of the job. Especially as they transitioned into electronic meter reading and the related radio transmission locations that were installed in unincorporated areas.

Over the last three years, I’ve been pushing California to harden electric lines, as you know. So, meeting with representatives of utility companies would be a smart thing for me and my staff to do. Especially when I have been unrelenting (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Black Malibu — November 23, 2018).

Let me give you an example of how I stayed consistent on this topic. Sen. Bob Hertzberg had a Senate Joint Resolution this year, SJR 20, on hardening. Here’s the summary for the resolution:

This measure would urge Congress and the President of the United States to work together to implement grid hardening measures and to help ensure our nation’s critical electrical infrastructure is protected from threats from electromagnetic pulses and physical attacks on the infrastructure.

For the full description, go to http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SJR20.

Resolutions are usually approved without much in the way of discussion or debate on the Senate Floor. But, when this topic comes up, it gives me a chance to repeat my concerns about utility lines causing wildfires. So I did. Watch the video below.

So, when Sempra’s new government relations representative covering Orange County came on board, it would be only natural that she meet with my District Director. And, since gifts of less than $50 are not reportable, he did not find it necessary to fight over the tab. (And, the amount may be overstated, as he should not be assessed for the tip that was added to the cost voluntarily by the vendor’s representative.)

It is great to see a reporter actually read the disclosures and write about it. Bravo on the transparency. The San Diego Reader provides interesting details that I would love to see more often in the media in the first piece below.

BONUS: The article mentions the Karl Strauss Brewing Company. It is located directly across the street from my District Office in Costa Mesa. You’re invited to visit our District Office for our annual Christmas Open House. What better day to hold this event than on December 6th? The 24th anniversary of Orange County’s filing for bankruptcy protection. Scott Carpenter, my District Director, will be there, as will the rest of my Capitol and District Staff. The event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Come as you are. Dress comfortably. Wearing a Reyn Spooner Christmas shirt will get you an extra cookie. And, then you can go back to Christmas shopping at the South Coast Plaza or Metropointe. You can even grab dinner at Karl Strauss. The invitation is the second piece below.

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Uber joins Sempra in sugar daddy game

Barona treats Dems and Reps to free meals

By Matt Potter

Party before the storm

Utility giant Sempra Energy and its subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric, enmeshed in a bevy of California controversies — including an ongoing effort to resist so-called Community Choice Aggregation in San Diego — have been plying elected officials with an array of goodies. Sempra’s most recent lobbyist disclosure filing with the state Secretary of State’s office for the third quarter of this year, reveals that Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, who earlier this month beat Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner to become the state’s next insurance commissioner, picked up a free admission valued at $80 to the September 27 JAY-Z and Beyoncé concert at SDCCU Stadium, formerly known as Qualcomm. A free meal worth $25.81 at Karl Strauss Brewing Company in Costa Mesa was had August 27 by Scott Carpenter, district director for Republican state Sen. John Moorlach, thanks to Sempra.

Other Republicans who got their dinner free thanks to Barona included Assembly members Vince Fong, Steve Choi, Matthew Harper, Tom Lackey, Chad Mayes, Jim Patterson, Randy Voepel, and Brian Maienschein. GOP senators present were Janet Nguyen, Ling Ling Chang, Jeff Stone, and Jim Nielsen. David Reade, chief of staff to Nielsen, also got the free food. Wilk and Acosta each picked up a free overnight stay and another meal from Barona worth an additional $144. Madera County supervisor Rob Poythress, who lost his state senate bid this month, also joined the festivities, as did senate hopeful Brian Jones, who won. Jones attended with his wife Heather. Another dinner recipient was GOP Ex-Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, who won her state senate election battle. Reelection races still to be called include those of Maienschein, Harper, and Nguyen. Acosta lost his Los Angeles area Assembly seat to Democrat Christy Smith. Not to be outdone by the Republicans, five days later, on September 11, Assembly Democrat Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and her husband Nathan Fletcher, elected this month to the county board of supervisors, shared a free meal from Barona worth $76.50, per the filing.

No free rides

The latest big-money player in the battle for San Diego streets and sidewalks is electronic ride-hailing giant Uber, which is letting loose a fleet of 300 electric bikes loose in the city, mostly at beaches and downtown, where fast-moving legions of scooter riders and hourly rental bikes already crowd public spaces. “JUMP bikes are pedal-assist electric bikes, so the harder you pedal the faster you’ll go,” says the company’s website. “An integrated GPS and lock means that you can find a bike near you and go for a ride.”

And where e-bikes go, city hall’s corps of contract lobbyists — intent on jumping onto the influence peddling gravy train — are never far behind. In Uber’s case, it’s Republican ex-city councilman Jim Madaffer, whose Madaffer Enterprises registered on October 29 to lobby regarding “development of regulations for dock-less vehicles and other micro-mobility options.” Notes Madaffer’s website: “Our firm offers first-rate strategic planning services and an ability to impeccably execute those plans alongside access to an unrivaled network of relationships.”

After months of foot-dragging amidst a small epidemic of broken bones, GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer has proposed a regulatory scheme that critics say is half-baked and ripe for manipulation by the city’s league of e-transit companies, which in addition to Uber include Bird, Lime, and Ofo. Since 2007, disclosure filings show, Madaffer and his wife Robin, an attorney and lobbyist, have given a total of $33,336 to city campaigns, including $4100 to Faulconer and $3300 to Republican Chris Cate. Chris Ward got $1100 as did fellow Democrat Barbara Bry. Uber competitor Lime Bike has been using the services of influence peddler Rath Miller, whose co-founder Phil Rath was fined $5000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission this month for conflict of interest violations. Bird has hired Falcon Strategies.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Black Malibu — November 23, 2018

It’s a rare day when you see a journalist do the heavy lifting. But, The Washington Free Beacon piece below provides an example of what can be done when a reporter sticks to the subject matter and peels the onion.

I know that I’ve provided plenty of information on SB 1463 (2016) (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 And The Facts — November 19, 2018). But, The Washington Free Beacon takes it up a notch.

The historical research and the lawsuit activity revealed is impressive. But, you will be saddened by the dots that were connected. What was the most disturbing fact this piece reminded me about? The city of Malibu wrote a letter of support for this bill. So, on Black Friday, we also have a black charred Malibu. Tragic.

Perhaps the more revealing aspect of this piece is the realization that SB 1463 was pointing out the madness of two state bureaucracies and their allegiance to the industry that they were mandated to oversee. They knew that there were serious dangers and calmly told everyone that everything was fine. Regretfully, even the Governor bought that line. Tragic.

It now appears that SB 1463 crashed a cozy party enjoyed by utilities and state agencies. The lengthy foot-dragging behavior and the calloused excuses provided is synonymous with the meme that I’ll close with, something I haven’t done before in an UPDATE (also see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NNOrp_83RU ):

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California Agency Took Nine Years to Create Fire Map

Gov. Brown vetoed a measure that tried to get the agency ‘off the dime’

By: Susan Crabtree

https://freebeacon.com/issues/california-agency-took-nine-years-create-fire-map/

The California state agency charged with overseeing utility companies took nine years to develop a consistent statewide map designating areas at high risk for destructive power-line fires.

Seven of those years took place during outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s time in office and six were during the tenure of a president of a key state agency who resigned after a series of leadership scandals.

Longtime critics of the utility companies and their role in sparking some of the state’s worst wildfires are voicing new concerns after reports that PG&E’s transmission line malfunctioned minutes before the start of the Camp Fire, the deadliest, most destructive fire in the state’s history.

Others are calling for the creation of a new independent body to oversee the utilities, complaining that the companies and their legions of lobbyists have too much sway over the existing California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC.

“We were the only city in the state to participate in the fire-mapping process. It’s a very slow-moving and bureaucratic and byzantine process dominated by the utility companies,” Bob Whalen, a city council member from the fire-prone Southern California city of Laguna Beach, told the Washington Free Beacon.

The rule-making process was largely controlled by utility-related representatives, he said.

“Any suggestion we made was typically voted down 31 to 1,” he said.

“To me, what would really take the fire mitigation analysis to a higher level is if you have an independent body of experts involved,” he added. “The utilities are so familiar with the process and so involved in the day to day of it, they really dominate the proceedings.”

The CPUC is the state government agency charged with protecting consumers safeguarding the environment and assuring “Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services,” according to its website.

“What [the CPUC] hasn’t done a good job at is requiring the utilities to follow good safety practices,” said Chico attorney Ken Roye, a resident of fire-ravaged Butte County who has litigated eight fire-related cases. “They’re all in bed together. The [CPUC] hasn’t done anything to alleviate the problem, and it’s been going on for over 30 years.”

“All eight [cases] that I’ve litigated have all involved vegetation-management issues—every single one,” he said.

A CalMatters report on Monday said the state’s “increasingly dire blazes have brought a reckoning over the role of power equipment in starting wildfires.” Fireproofing the equipment won’t be cheap—and “customers may pay,” the report warned.

Brown appointed two of his top aides to serve on the commission in 2016 to help reform it and make it more transparent following a large gas leak in Southern California and the resignation of its former leader after revelations of back-channel dealings related to a deadly pipeline explosion, as well as PG&E’s diversion of money approved for pipeline safety to executive compensation.

In addition, a scathing 2016 audit found lax control over spending, a failure to disclose public records, and board members’ travel at the expense of a nonprofit organization with close ties to the utilities it is supposed to oversee.

At the time, Ed Howard, an expert in regulatory and administrative law at the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law, said, “I would be shocked if what we’ve learned so far even gets beyond the tip of the iceberg.”

Despite the scandals, that same year Brown vetoed a wildfire-related bill that would have required the CPUC to work with municipalities to ensure that the utility companies were doing all they could to prevent fires in high-risk areas, arguing it was redundant. The measure was aimed at speeding up the map-making process and requiring local officials’ input.

State Sen. John Moorlach, a Republican representing Laguna Beach, said his bill was aimed at getting the CPUC “off the dime” when it came to the map-making process, which in some instances served as a precursor to much needed fire-mitigation steps. The Laguna Beach area has experienced four major wildfires in recent years and devastating one in 1993 that consumed 16,000 acres and burned 441 homes.

“I authored a bill in 2016, SB 1463, to address wildfires caused by sparking electrical lines in order to protect my constituents,” Moorlach wrote in a blog post Monday. “The constituents who had been dealing with the CPUC and Cal Fire all disagreed that these two agencies were doing their job well or as quickly as they could, thus the reason for [the bill].”

“Governor Brown relied on his bureaucracy. And he’s relied on a weak excuse, saying the real issue is climate change,” Moorlach continued. “A good manager would not just trust but verify his departments.”

The Rural County Representatives of California, the Orange County Fire Chiefs Association, the cities of Malibu, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Aliso Viejo all signed letters in support of the measure in 2016.

Much of the lengthy map-making process took place during the ousted former leader’s 12-year tenure.

Asked why the process of producing a consistent state-wide map of high fire-threat areas took nearly nine years, CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper pointed to a section describing the process on the website.

“It was a very involved process led by a group of utility mapping experts, with oversight from a team of independent experts known as the Independent Review Team,” she said in an email. “The members of the Independent Review team were selected by the California department of Forestry and Fire Protection [Cal Fire], and the work of the [team] was overseen by Cal Fire.”

She added that the development of the fire-threat map includes input from many stakeholders, including investor-owned and publicly owned electric utilities, communications infrastructure providers and local public safety agencies.

The CPUC website information on the mapping process says a series of regulations began in response to a number of devastating wildfires in October 2007 that burned hundreds of square miles in Southern California. The fires were driven by strong Santa Ana winds and were “reportedly ignited by overhead utility power lines and aerial communication facilities in close proximity to power lines.”

In 2009, the CPUC revised its rules to ensure that fire-safety regulations apply only to areas referred to as “high fire-threat areas.” The areas were identified by interim maps that covered different parts of the state and used different methodologies for identifying the fire-threat areas, “presenting consistency and potential enforcement issues.”

To address those issues, the CPUC began to develop a statewide fire-threat map, the website states, before jumping to 2015 when the commission adopted another rulemaking mentioning the decision to develop and adopt a “statewide fire-threat map that delineates the boundaries of the high fire-threat district where the previously adopted regulations will apply” and “determine the need for additional fire-safety regulations” in those areas.

The piece states that the CPUC adopted the final map on January 19, 2018.

A new San Jose Mercury News report also faults the CPUC for lax oversight. The Monday report said a 2012 winter storm toppled five steel towers that support the same PG&E transmission line that malfunctioned minutes before the Camp Fire ignited.

The report cites a July 16, 2013 letter to the CPUC from PG&E stating it planned to replace six consecutive lattice-steel towers with new towers located in the same vicinity of problems suspected to have caused the Camp Fire. The project was scheduled for completion by the end of 2013 but wasn’t finished until 2016.

Frank Pitre, the co-counsel representing more than 600 clients suing PG&E over last year’s North Bay fires, has called for an independent audit of the 2012 incident and the condition of the towers.

“The cause or causes of the five transmission towers that collapsed in 2012 along this line must be thoroughly investigated, to determine if any of the same causes are associated with the malfunction reported before the Camp Fire started,” he told the Mercury News. “If so, then the multi-billion-dollar question for PG&E to answer will be: ‘What did they do to assure themselves that other towers and equipment along the same line were safe for continued operation during high wind conditions?'”

Susan Crabtree

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Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 And The Facts — November 19, 2018

These facts are clear:

* I authored a bill in 2016, SB 1463, to address wildfires caused by sparking electrical lines in order to protect my constituents.

* The constituents who had been dealing with the CPUC and CalFire all disagreed that these two agencies were doing their job well or as quickly as they could. Thus, the reason for SB 1463.

* SB 1463 passed through a half-dozen committees, along with their thorough consultants and committee chairs, and passed three times on the Legislative Floors, receiving no votes in opposition during the process.

* SB 1463 was as bipartisan as any bill can get, including having prominent Democrats as co-authors.

* Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it, stating the bureaucracies he oversees were managing the situation and the bill was unnecessary.

* The 2017 Santa Rosa fire was caused by sparking electric lines last year, killing some 44 individuals.

* The current 2018 Camp Fire conflagration was also started by electric lines.

* A journalist makes note of the veto, something that also occurred last year, but this time it goes viral (for an example from 2017, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017).

* Snopes swoops in to protect the Governor (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Snopes is Fired Up — November 14, 2018).

Governor Brown relied on his bureaucracy. And he’s relied on a weak excuse, saying the real issue is climate change.

A good manager would not just trust, but verify his departments. A good manager would be proactive, demanding that due to climate change this dry and Santa Ana Winds state needs to harden electric lines and now! And, a good manager, when he or she falls short, apologizes, and does not act like the issue is trivial or beyond his or her control. (If you want to be a hero to your young children, if you have them, fess up and tell them you’re sorry when you screw up, as this goes a long way in building a solid relationship.)

This year, Governor Brown mentioned a $2.9 billion budget overrun for his High Speed Rail Authority in his annual State of the State Address. He laughed it off, literally, saying budget overruns happen. But, the state of Florida built an entire high-speed rail project, Brightline, for less than this California budget blip. This is no laughing matter. This is poor management.

Now we get a scathing audit report on California’s HSR from the State Auditor’s office, titled “Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction” (see https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2018-108.pdf). This is poor management and nothing suggests that it will get any better.

The Governor does not like to manage. The Department of Motor Vehicles is another example from this year. What was the solution? An emergency bill giving the DMV as much money as it needed to improve customer service. An open checkbook!! This is poor management.

Californians are now on the hook for the high cost of fighting wildfires around the state. But, our non-manager Governor vetoed SB 1463, a bill that tried to prevent them and the resulting greenhouse gases.

It’s time for the Governor to tap out and apologize.

Instead, we get more apologists trying to defend the Governor’s veto. What a joke. What a testimony to prove the claim that there is fake news. Those self-proclaimed media members who are claiming to get to the truth should do so and challenge failures of a sitting Governor. Not serve as members of the palace guard.

The first piece below picks up on the theme first addressed by Snopes. It is a by a reporter from PolitiFact who showed his lack of critical thinking last year on an op-ed we submitted regarding the status of crime in California (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Taken to Task — August 23, 2017).

Should it be hard for someone to comprehend when Gov. Brown pushed for AB 109, which released inmates from State Prisons, personal property crime statistics would go up? Please, ask any police officer that you bump into how things are going. Or, better yet, ask a retailer or someone who lost the laptop they left in their car overnight. But, I digress.

It’s a little difficult to determine what the point of the PolitiFact piece is supposed to be. But, it is amazing what one critical piece by Katy Grimes can do to stir up defenders of the craziness going on. It went so viral, it gave me numerous interviews on top-tier radio talk shows last week (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Prevention Not Embraced — November 13, 2018).

The second piece was a reaction to the same brouhaha and is found in The Washington Free Beacon. Fortunately, the reporter did a little more digging than just taking the CPUC’s paperwork as the answer. In fact, she finds that work didn’t really begin until August 2017, long after the Governor vetoed SB 1463. Poor management, once again.

With all of this excuse making and covering up, I decided to provide a lengthy, but thorough rebuttal. Fox and Hounds was willing to print this treatise and it is the third piece below.

The bottom line? The Governor should have signed SB 1463. It would have shown that he is managing departments that were dragging their feet. It would have shown he was concerned about really reducing greenhouse gases. And, most importantly, it would have allowed him to state he was working on preventing wildfires caused by electrical lines long before the Santa Rosa and Camp Fire conflagrations occurred.

This is a tragic way for Governor Brown to depart from Sacramento. Instead of blaming something he was a self-acclaimed warrior against, he should simply show some remorse and state he could have done more.

The fourth piece below is from Legal Insurrection. This piece covers another aspect of the causes of the fires and closes with my published reaction to the Governor’s veto back in 2016. It’s worth a second mention here:

“One of the paramount responsibilities of government is to provide for public safety. The consequences of wildfires include loss of life, property damage, impacts on ecosystems, etc. Communities in my district, particularly Laguna Beach, are rightfully very concerned about fire safety.

“SB 1463 would have not only safeguarded Laguna and other high fire-risk communities in Orange County, but would have helped other vulnerable communities throughout the state that are often threatened by wildfires caused by sparks from shorted or fallen utility lines. The Governor’s veto impedes the necessity to more urgently address the California Public Utilities Commission’s focus on identifying high risk areas that should be prioritized for appropriate mitigation measures.”

Examining Jerry Brown’s veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it

By Chris Nichols

https://www.politifact.com/california/article/2018/nov/16/examining-jerry-browns-veto-2016-wildfire-legislat/

As deadly wildfires burned across California this week, a flurry of social media and blog posts called into question Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a wildfire management bill two years ago. The posts suggested the legislation could have reduced or even prevented the recent infernos a contention strongly refuted by the Brown administration.

With so much attention on the fires, we decided to examine these claims, though we did not place any Truth-O-Meter ratings on them.

Here’s what we found:

In September 2016, Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1463, which aimed to reduce the risk of power lines sparking fires in brush-covered and wooded areas, saying in his veto letter that the bill duplicated existing efforts. SB 1463 had been unanimously approved by the state Legislature.

Here’s what the governor said in rejecting the bill:

“This bill requires the Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas that have increased fire hazard associated with overhead utility facilities. Since May of last year, the Commission and CalFire have been doing just that through the existing proceeding on fire-threat maps and fire-safety regulations. This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.”

Many of the posts criticizing Brown circulated an August 2018 blog at Flashreport.org, a conservative-leaning website. Some described it as evidence the governor had neglected to keep the state safe.

The blog describes Brown as “jetting around the world spouting climate change propaganda” as fires burned last year in California. It said his veto was “political.”

Had Brown approved the measure, lives could have been saved last year in the Santa Rosa fires, the bill’s author, state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, claimed in an interview this week on the Lars Larson radio show.

“Why the governor vetoed that, I don’t know. CPUC and CalFire have been working on it for eight years, can’t seem to get their act together,” Moorlach said. “But if we could have hardened some lines, especially in Santa Rosa last year at this time, we might have prevented the loss of 44 lives.”

Moorlach’s spokesman said the state senator was not available on Thursday for an interview.

Brown administration’s response

But instead of speeding up fire prevention, the Brown administration argued Moorlach’s bill would have slowed down existing work. The state utilities commission and CalFire, the state’s forestry and fire prevention agency, had been at work since 2013 mapping areas at risk of fires due to utility equipment.

Asked about the criticism leveled this week at Brown, Evan Westrup, the governor’s spokesman, said it was “absolutely shameful to exploit this tragedy – with fires still burning – to try to score cheap political points.”

Westrup added that the Brown administration has taken numerous steps to prevent fires in recent years, citing several efforts here:

— September 21, 2018: Governor Brown Signs Legislation to Strengthen Wildfire Prevention and Recovery

— August 7, 2018: CAL FIRE Awards $170 million to Reduce Fire Threat and Improve Forest Health

— May 10, 2018: Governor Brown Issues Executive Order to Protect Communities from Wildfire, Climate Impacts

— Oct. 30, 2015: Governor Brown Takes Action to Protect Communities Against Unprecedented Tree Die-Off

Terrie Prosper, a spokesperson for the utilities commission, wrote in an email that the bill “would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because CAL FIRE was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.”

That process produced a statewide Fire-Threat Map in January, one month after the commission voted to strengthen regulations for utilities that have facilities in areas where thick vegetation and strong winds make fires more dangerous, according to a KQED news article.

‘Shot across the bow’

Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, reviewed the bill and Brown’s veto message. He said in an email, “I do not think it would have made much of a difference, as the amount of funds was not that great ($582,000 that may have just led to some hiring of consultants and a lot interaction with the communities) and, more importantly, no new advances would have been made.”

Stewart, however, went on to describe the legislation as “a good shot across the bow to the (Brown) administration to do more. This area of risk assessment and mitigation has been woefully underfunded for decades.”

In the end, we found the recent blog and social media posts glossed over the governor’s reasons for rejecting the bill in question. They dismissed existing efforts to map high-risk fire areas that the Brown administration said would have been slowed down by the bill. Because the bill was vetoed, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it would have sped up or slowed down the process. But, as Stewart said, the bill could have served as a warning to get moving on existing efforts.

Trump to visit California

On Saturday, President Trump is scheduled to visit California “to meet with individuals impacted by the wildfires,” said Lindsay Walters, his deputy press secretary.

We’ve fact-checked the president and his recent erroneous claims about the fires.

Earlier this week, we rated False Trump’s recent claim “there is no reason” for California’s deadly fires except for poor forest management. The president ignored other key causes such as urban sprawl and climate change.

In August, we rated False his assertion that firefighters couldn’t access water due to California’s environmental policies. We found the president conflated the state’s real water controversy between farmers and environmentalists with the unrelated issue of firefighting.

The fires in Northern and Southern California which started last week left dozens dead in their wake, prompted the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes.

At least 63 people were killed in and nearby the Northern California town of Paradise, two people were killed by the Southern California fire, and a third death in that fire zone is under investigation as possibly linked to the fire.

Authorities said on Thursday there are 631 people still unaccounted for near the Northern California fire.

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California Gov. Brown’s Veto of Wildfire Bill Faces Scrutiny

Despite pushback, GOP state Sen. Moorlach says his measure could have lessened fire devastation

By Susan Crabtree

https://freebeacon.com/issues/california-gov-browns-veto-wildfire-bill-faces-scrutiny/

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2016 veto of wildfire-related bill is facing new scrutiny in the wake of the deadliest, most destructive week of fires in state history.

The measure would have required the state government’s public utility commission to work with municipalities to ensure that energy companies do all they can to prevent fires in high-risk areas.

When he vetoed the bill, Brown dismissed it as unnecessary and redundant to efforts the utility commission had already begun, arguing that it would gum up the process already underway.

The governor’s critics disagree, especially now that a power line is suspected to have caused the Camp Fire, which wiped out the small town of Paradise, Calif. in the worst fire in state history.

The Camp Fire that swept through Paradise has produced startling numbers: 77 dead, 1,276 listed as missing, 150,000 acres burned and 10,000 homes destroyed as of Sunday night.

President Trump visited wildfire-ravaged Paradise and Malibu on Saturday to witness the desolation and hear from victims.

Trump’s trip revived last weekend’s heated debate between himself and Brown over the root cause of the fires—whether lack of forest management or climate change is the root cause.

Brown at a press conference last Sunday called the fires the “new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue in the next 10, 15, 20 years.”

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” he said.

Reacting to the outbreak of the recent spate of fires more than a week ago, Trump blamed environmentalists in the state, tweeting in part, “so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”

Some community leaders and legislators, as well as many fire victims, see other culprits: the public utilities and those in state government who they believe haven’t done enough to protect against power lines snapping and igniting the blazes.

Residents in the city of Paradise filed suit against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday, alleging that the utility company’s negligence and faulty equipment generated the deadly Camp Fire. The plaintiff’s attorneys claimed that a high-voltage transmission line failed, igniting surrounding vegetation.

The cause has not been officially determined, but PG&E disclosed in a regulatory filing Tuesday that it “experienced an outage” on a transmitter line in Butte County at 6:15 a.m. on Nov. 8, minutes before the Camp Fire was reported.

Additionally, Cal Fire, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire protection, has concluded that PG&E equipment sparked a series of destructive fires in 2017.

John Moorlach, a GOP state senator who authored the 2016 bill Brown vetoed, thinks it could have prevented at least some of blazes over the last two years and the havoc they wreaked on so many lives.

The measure, SB 1463, passed the Democrat-dominated legislature unanimously, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate in 2016.

The unanimous votes were preceded by a lengthy committee process involving several hearings and testimony from community leaders across the state worried that utilities weren’t doing enough to “harden” their lines in fire-prone areas.

“We did the bill at the request of the cities in my district, and we got it through the legislature, it went through three committees in the Senate, and we didn’t have one vote of opposition so it was sort of a shock that it was vetoed,” Moorlach told the Washington Free Beacon Thursday. “It was supposed to prevent fires in wildfire zones, and it’s also a way to reduce greenhouse gases so we were surprised when the governor vetoed this bill.”

Moorlach said he expected Brown and Democrats focused on climate change to embrace his bill because some of the worst wildfires in the state produce as much greenhouse gases “as all the cars driving in California for a year.”

“It just seems like someone as committed to that cause as Jerry Brown would say, ‘Get it done tomorrow. It should have been done six years ago when I got here,'” Moorlach said.

Asked about the veto, Brown’s spokesman reiterated his veto message and referred the Free Beacon’s questions to the CPUC.

In that 2016 veto message, Brown said the bill was redundant because the CPUC was already prioritizing areas that have increased fire hazard associated with “overhead utility facilities.”

“This deliberative process should continue, and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum,” Brown said.

The CPUC said a fire-threat map the 2016 measure called for was approved in January 2018 and argued that the Moorlach measure would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of “certain entities, which was unnecessary because Cal Fire was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.”

It also said that the CPUC and Cal Fire were already “deeply engaged” in ongoing fire safety rulemaking processes at the time Brown vetoed the legislation.

Phase 1 of this effort began in 2013 and was completed in 2015. Phase 2 implemented new fire-safety regulations in high-priority areas of the state as called for in the vetoed legislation, “thus making the bill redundant.”

In addition, the CPUC spokeswoman said the CPUC and Cal Fire signed a Memorandum of Understanding in August 2017 that increased information sharing and investigative resources between the two organizations.

Despite the progress the CPUC cited,  Moorlach sill questions whether the commission has followed through on its efforts quickly and thoroughly enough.

“In California, you have to manage the state through legislation—you have to tell the departments how and when to do their job or it can just get lost in the bureaucracy” and take years longer than necessary, he said.

The measure, he said, aimed to give local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the CPUC proceeding making maps of fire-hazard areas around utility lines and taking steps to harden those lines and reduce vegetation around the above-ground power lines.

The cities in his district and elsewhere in the state obviously still thought it was necessary, he said. After all the map-making process had yet to be completed in 2016 when the bill passed the legislature unanimously.

“Some deliberative process. What a sad joke. No maps. More greenhouse gases. More innocent lives lost, all because a governor who despises managing a bureaucracy, relied on that same bureaucracy and received what? Nothing?” Moorlach wrote in a blog post this week.

“Now we have the Camp Fire,” he added.

The bill also received media attention after the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, the second-most destructive wildfire in California history after the Camp Fire.

Cal Fire found that the Tubbs Fire, as well as five other fires in a total of six counties, were caused by PG&E’s “electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”

Laguna Beach, an upscale city in Moorlach’s district, experienced four fires sparked by utility lines in the last 10 years and at least 441 homes were lost to fire, the senator said. The all-Democrat city council is still concerned about the area’s vulnerability to utility-sparked fires.

The small beachside city is nestled along the Orange County coastline and only has three entry points, two of them being the North and South entrances via the Pacific Coast highway and another through a long road through a hilly, dry canyon lined with wooden utility poles.

Moorlach says 58 or 59 or those poles have been hit in recent years, and when they are hit, the poles fall down blocking the roads for hours until they can be removed safely.

“If one of those poles falls down and the electric line snaps, it’s a huge fire hazard,” he said.

The bill also tried to give cities in fire-prone areas the opportunity to work with CPUC to place utilities underground in certain areas and help develop updated fire maps highlighting the communities at the highest risk.

This fall Laguna Beach tried to pass a ballot measure that would have imposed a 1 percent sales tax increase intended to pay for placing utility lines underground along Laguna Canyon road plus other fire-safety projects. It failed on a 53.8 percent to 46.2 vote.

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Fact-Checking Snopes and PolitiFact on California Wildfires  and SB 1463

By John Moorlach

State Senator representing the 37th Senate District

http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/2018/11/fact-checking-snopes-politifact-california-wildfires-sb-1463/

The fact-checking sites Snopes and PolitiFact have called into question my Senate Bill 1463 from 2016. I am going to fact-check their fact-checking.

Snopes wrote: “Claim: Jerry Brown vetoed a wildfire management bill in 2016, contributing to the prevalence and risk of wildfires in the ensuing two years.” So, Snopes itself is claiming two “claims” here: the prevalence and risk of wildfires.

Snopes found “What’s True”: That Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, “a bill in the California legislature which would have required the California Public Utilities Commission to prioritize areas at increased risk from overhead wires in their management of wildfires.”

Snopes added in “What’s False”: “There is no evidence that Brown’s veto contributed to or exacerbated the risk or prevalence of wildfires in California, and the California Public Utilities Commission provided details showing that it had already been engaged in work similar to the proposals contained in SB 1463.”

The Two Claims

Let’s first look at the two claims:

Claim 1. The veto of SB 1463 contributed to the “prevalence” of wildfires from 2017-18. Here are the exact words of SB 1463:

SECTION 1.

“Section 761.2 is added to the Public Utilities Code, to read:

“761.2.

(a) In determining areas in which to require enhanced mitigation measures for wildfire hazards posed by overhead electrical lines and equipment, the commission, in consultation with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, shall prioritize areas in which communities are subject to conditions that increase fire hazards associated with overhead utility facilities generally and at specific locations. Consistent with Section 321.1, the commission shall develop a definition of “enhanced mitigation measures” for purposes of this subdivision in Rulemaking 15-05-006 (Filed May 7, 2015), Order Instituting Rulemaking to Develop and Adopt Fire-Threat Maps and Fire-Safety Regulations, or in another appropriate proceeding.

“(b) Any findings supporting a decision to approve the boundaries for areas described in subdivision (a) shall describe how the commission incorporated the concerns of local governments, fire departments, or both in determining those boundaries.”

Doesn’t it seem obvious that “to prioritize” areas with “conditions that increase fire hazards” with “enhanced mitigation efforts” might reduce fires? The key word is “might,” because, as with auto or homeowners insurance, we can’t know exactly where disaster might strike, and where it might be avoided. At a minimum, studies would be needed to indicate which of the 2017-18 fires might have been mitigated by SB 1463. Snopes should have waited for such studies, or conducted them on its own.

Meanwhile, on just one day, November 13, 2018, the media ran four stories fingering overhead power line failures for the new fires:

  1. Utility emailed woman about problems 1 day before fire

AP, Nov. 13, 2018

“A day before a deadly blaze destroyed a California town, the giant utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. got in touch with Betsy Ann Cowley, saying they needed access to her property because their power lines were causing sparks.”

  1. Fires put pressure on California utilities despite new law

AP, Nov. 13, 2018

“California utilities again are facing severe financial pressures from the possibility that their equipment sparked catastrophic wildfires, including two that are now burning at either end of the state. The pressure comes even though Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in September giving utilities some relief beginning next year.”

  1. State regulators investigating PG&E, SoCal Edison for roles in deadly Camp, Woolsey fires

San Jose Mercury, Nov. 13, 2018

“State regulators have launched investigations into California’s two largest utility companies after both PG&E and Southern California Edison Company reported that their electrical infrastructure suffered malfunctions near ground zero of two deadly blazes raging across the north and south of the state.”

  1. Edison reported a disturbance with a circuit near Woolsey fire two minutes before fire sparked

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 2018

“Southern California Edison said one of its circuits went out two minutes before the Woolsey fire began.”

Claim 2: The veto of SB 1463 contributed to the “risk” of wildfires from 2017-18. Risk is different from prevalence. Risk is an actuarial estimate of the future occurrence of something. Thus, the question is: Would SB 1463 have reduced the actual number and extent of wildfires, not just in 2017-18, but in the future?

I have no idea how much my legislation might have reduced the risk of wildfires, but what I do know is the CPUC and CalFire were moving at a snail’s pace on an issue that presented an existential threat to many Californians. There is also a risk in inaction and the governor chose that route.

Moreover, given the sclerotic nature of government agencies, especially the scandal-plagued CPUC (see below), SB 1463 might not even have been implemented yet, its benefits arriving only in future years after eventual CPUC compliance.

Trust the CPUC?

Next, let’s look at this Snopes statement under “What’s False” (supposedly):

“[T]he California Public Utilities Commission provided details showing that it had already been engaged in work similar to the proposals contained in SB 1463.”

And:

“In response to our questions, a spokesperson for Brown directed us to a spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission, who outlined in further detail the risk mitigation efforts undertaken as part of the agency’s initiative with CalFire (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) and said that the bill Brown vetoed would actually have slowed down that progress:

“ ‘Senate Bill 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because CAL FIRE was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate.’”

Well, it’s odd that a supposed fact-checking organization would take the word of a government bureaucracy, the CPUC, itself known to be one of the worst managed agencies in the state. It’s virtually a regulatory DMV.

The June 28, 2016 San Francisco Chronicle headlined: “A scandal-plagued state agency gets a shake up at last.” The story:

“Calling the state Public Utilities Commission scandal-plagued is almost an understatement. Yes, it failed to spot faulty gas lines while its leaders dickered in private with power companies over consumer rates. But the stodgy agency is also falling short in monitoring California’s fast-changing economy.

“These pressures to mend past practices and anticipate the future lie behind changes that Sacramento is mapping out for the PUC. Pressure was building in the Legislature in an unstoppable wave that moved a reluctant Gov. Jerry Brown to agree to a makeover plan.

“For the Bay Area, there is no bigger explanation than the San Bruno explosion in 2010 that killed eight and leveled a neighborhood. A shoddy pipeline neglected by Pacific Gas & Electric should have caught the agency’s notice. An inquiry led to another troubling problem: Utility executives had back-channel access to agency commissioners who set rates for millions of consumers. The PUC was anything but a watchdog regulator.”

The ineptness of the CPUC is well known. But, working on simple fire maps for more than eight years and not broadcasting their effort to the Legislature? It could be done by someone with a laptop in two days.

Anxious cities wanted the fire maps. Accordingly, the Legislature tells the bureaucracy what to do, not the other way around. SB 1463 would have accelerated the critical prioritization. It’s done with so many proposed arenas and football stadiums. But the governor didn’t ask for such authority or guidance. He relied on a troubled agency, only now to find the project was buried in the bureaucracy, stating the bill could possibly complicate this drawn out process.

This assertion is proved, as SB 1436 was reviewed by six legislative committees. If the CPUC and CalFire were legitimately performing the work they claimed to be doing, shouldn’t they have informed at least one of the committee chairs?

Laguna Beach

Snopes also quoted from an August 8, 2018 article in “Flash Report” – real name, Flashreport – by the excellent journalist Katy Grimes:

“At the request of the City Council of Laguna Beach, Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) authored SB 1463 in 2016, a bipartisan bill which would have given local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the Public Utilities Commission proceeding making maps of fire hazard areas around utility lines.

“Laguna Beach went through four fires sparked by utility lines in the last ten years, and has done as much in the way of prevention as they could afford. The bill would have allowed cities to work with utilities to underground utility lines, and work with the Public Utilities Commission to develop updated fire maps by requiring the PUC to take into consideration areas in which communities are at risk from the consequences of wildfire — not just those areas where certain environmental hazards are present …

“Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, despite being passed by the Legislature, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate. That tells you this was political. The Governor’s veto message did not properly address why he vetoed the bill. Brown claimed that the [Public Utilities Commission] and CalFire have already been doing what Moorlach’s bill sought to accomplish. How on earth could Brown kill this bill when the state was burning down?”

Laguna Beach is part of my 37th District in the California Senate, so I want to take care of my constituents. I still remember the horror in 1993 when large sections of the beautiful city burned down from wildfires, which I could see from my home in Costa Mesa. They lost 441 homes. Even three years later, only about one-half of the homes had been rebuilt. Today, the average value of homes in Laguna Beach is more than $2 million. Another devastating fire would destroy many tens of millions of dollars of property, along with the potential loss of life.

There are only three roads into Laguna Beach. Two are PCH, North and South. The third is State Route 133, Laguna Canyon Road. Whenever I drive down this scenic road, I see how easy it is for someone to hit one of the wooden power poles, causing snapped electrical wires to ignite fires. In recent years, some 58 of these poles have been hit. Downed poles were blamed for fires there in 197020122015 and other years. We’re lucky more fires haven’t been started.

No wonder Laguna Beach officials and residents have been trying to “underground” their power lines. As the Orange County Register reported on August 31, 2016:

“[Councilman Bob] Whalen thanked Moorlach for his efforts to push the bill [SB 1436] in Sacramento.

“ ‘It was an uphill battle with the electric utilities, the cable TV operators and their lobbyists watching our every move,’ he said. ‘We didn’t get everything we wanted in this bill, but it is an important first step and will strengthen our hand as we do battle at the CPUC to make sure that Laguna Beach is recognized as an area for enhanced measures to prevent fires caused by overhead utilities.’

“City officials called for citywide ‘undergrounding’ of utilities following a 15-acre wildfire in July 2015 that started when trees fell into utility wires, causing a power surge that sparked flames. Whalen said the city ‘dodged a bullet’ with that fire thanks to favorable winds and firefighters’ efforts. He said he immediately contacted Southern California Edison and urged the utility company to partner with the city to reduce imminent threat of fire.

“Whalen and other city officials met with SCE several times. But [City Manager] John Pietig said the city chose the legislative route once it became obvious that city officials were not getting ‘meaningful assistance’ from SCE to bury the power lines.

“ ‘We can no longer risk the public safety of Laguna Beach by allowing above-ground utilities,’ Whalen said then. ‘A major fire disaster caused by power lines is only a matter of time.’”

Measure P

Laguna Beach residents even put Measure P on the November 6, 2018 ballot to pay for the undergrounding. It was defeated, with 54 percent voting “No”; a two-thirds “Yes” vote was needed for passage. Opponents contended it would have been the second city sales tax increase in two years, and, “Historically individual neighborhoods have paid for their own undergrounding,” among other arguments.

In my ballot recommendations, I also recommended a “No” vote because Californians everywhere already are taxed too much. As I noted in my October 22 Update, there are other funding sources. It’s best to find non-tax solutions to this and other problems.

In reference to Snopes, the point is at least 43 percent of voters in Laguna Beach even are willing to raise their own taxes to pay for undergrounding. Presumably a majority would favor undergrounding with other ways to pay for it.

Going beyond the Snopes inquiry, I also proposed a different SB 1463 in 2018, which would have dedicated 25 percent of state cap-and-trade funds to wildfire mitigation efforts. That bill failed. But parts of its concept were incorporated into SB 901, which did pass, and uses $200 million a year of cap-and-trade funds over five years for wildfire mitigation.

The connection with cap-and-trade is crucial. Cap-and-trade is intended to fund the reduction of greenhouse gases. Yet a few days of wildfires may generate a volume of greenhouse gases as great as every vehicle in the state operating for a whole year (in addition to the other toxic emissions and co-pollutants, not counting the immense loss of life and property).

Don’t even get me started on the amount of cap-and-trade money that is going to the high-speed rail boondoggle. Perhaps we should divert every last cent to our fire-prone areas and abandon the not-so-bullet train? Especially since it will be electric-powered?

If SB 901 – or either version of SB 1463 – can prevent even one wildfire, then it would more than pay for its cost.

PolitiFact Mangles the Facts Again

After the Snopes piece came out, PolitiFact produced a similar analysis by Chris Nichols, “Examining Jerry Brown’s veto of California wildfire legislation and the criticism of it.”

Back in August 2017, I refuted a piece by Nichols on California’s worsening crime problem. Writing this time, he is more cautious, “With so much attention on the fires, we decided to examine these claims, though we did not place any Truth-O-Meter ratings on them.”

In the new piece, Nichols rehashes similar material to that of Snopes, including the same CPUC excuses. And he quotes Evan Westrup, Gov. Brown’s spokesman, who said it was “absolutely shameful to exploit this tragedy – with fires still burning – to try to score cheap political points.” It’s not clear from the Nichols piece if Westrup is criticizing my efforts and comments, or something else. But for the record: In democracies, it’s just such discussions by which we solve our most pressing problems.

Nichols continued, “Westrup added that the Brown administration has taken numerous steps to prevent fires in recent years, citing several efforts here.” Listed are four positive steps, such as “September 21, 2018: Governor Brown Signs Legislation to Strengthen Wildfire Prevention and Recovery.” Not mentioned by Nichols: the legislation was SB 901, and that I supported it.

Of course, Gov. Brown is to be commended for taking this and other steps. But the issue at hand is SB 1463 from 2016.

Nichols also cites the familiar excuses by the CPUC, not noting its scandalous operations. The CPUC/Calfire “process produced a statewide Fire-Threat Map in January [2018], one month after the commission voted to strengthen regulations for utilities that have facilities in areas where thick vegetation and strong winds make fires more dangerous, according to a KQED news article.”

Well, perhaps that process might have begun a year earlier if SB 1463 had been signed into law in the fall of 2016. And Nichols does not cite this part from that very same KQED article:

“Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working for years to make maps of the highest-risk areas in California. Those maps, once finished, could be used to hold utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to higher fire safety standards.

“After last month’s [October 2017] deadly Northern California wildfires, some state lawmakers are saying the process of making the maps is moving too slowly, putting people’s lives at risk….

“State Sen. John M. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown this week asking him for details about what exactly the agencies have been doing.

“ ‘This mapping exercise has been going on for a decade, while over the last few years, dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost in wildfires resulting from fires started by utility wires,’ Moorlach wrote in the letter.

“The effort to create this set of maps started about a decade ago after deadly wildfires burned through Southern California.”

Nichols’ article quotes Bill Stewart, a forestry specialist at UC Berkeley, who said, “I do not think it [SB 1463] would have made much of a difference, as the amount of funds was not that great ($582,000 that may have just led to some hiring of consultants and a lot interaction with the communities) and, more importantly, no new advances would have been made.” (Parentheses in original.) But it was “a good shot across the bow to the (Brown) administration to do more. This area of risk assessment and mitigation has been woefully underfunded for decades.”

That’s contradictory. Isn’t “a good shot across the bow” more than not making “much of a difference”? And Stewart actually is talking about Brown’s vetoing of the bill, not what would have happened if it actually had been signed into law – which I contend would have produced better results.

Nichols’ conclusion: “Because the bill was vetoed, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it would have sped up or slowed down the process.” So he actually concedes it might have “sped up … the process.”

As in their August 2017 article, Nichols and PolitiFact are confused about the facts.

We Can Fight Wildfires

It is such realistic solutions as my bills that are needed to fight California fires. In January, I am considering introducing new legislation along the lines of the 2018 version of SB 1463. With new members of the Legislature and a new governor, new approaches should receive new consideration.

Meanwhile, Snopes needs to “Snopes” its own investigations and PolitiFact needs to fact-check itself.

John M.W. Moorlach represents the 37th District in the California Senate

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President Trump will travel to California to meet with wildfire victims

Posted by Leslie Eastman

https://legalinsurrection.com/2018/11/president-trump-will-travel-to-california-to-meet-with-wildfire-victims/

President Donald Trump will travel to California this Saturday to meet with victims of several deadly wildfires currently burning in the region that have already claimed the lives of over 70 people.

The state is currently fighting two fires, one outside of Los Angeles and another far more deadly fire north of Sacramento. As of Thursday afternoon, authorities had confirmed 56 deaths in the northern California fire known as the Camp Fire, and another three deaths in the southern fire, known as the Woolsey fire.

It was unclear Thursday precisely which area of the state Trump planned to visit. The White House said more information would be released in the coming days.

The President will have a lot of devastation to view. Drone footage of the City of Paradise shows that that a gorgeous, small town is little more than ash and soot.

The death toll is expected to climb over the next few days, having already reached 71 as of Saturday morning.  There are also more than 1,000 missing people, and that list is expected to expand as well.

It appears that a temporary truce has been called between Trump and the political leaders of the #Resistance from California.

Trump has visited California once since taking office — to view border wall prototypes along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president tweeted on Wednesday that he had spoken with Gov. Jerry Brown “to let him know that we are with him, and the people of California, all the way!”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is glad to see the president come to California.

“I welcome the president’s visit to see the extent of the damage from these ongoing wildfires and look forward to working with his administration to ensure California receives all the federal support possible in the response and recovery,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the quest for the origins of this year’s fires, especially the Camp Fire that incinerated Paradise and the Woolsey fire that destroyed numerous celebrity homes and 83% of the cherished Santa Monica National Recreation Area. The park had been the site used for filming many TV shows and movies.

There are many theories being offered about why these fires began.

An electrical cause is certainly on the table, [James Engel, the deputy chief of law enforcement and fire prevention at the northern division of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection] said, from a power line that could have fallen in the wind, or some other malfunctioning electrical equipment.

Other causes will also be considered, from a tossed cigarette to a power-mower blade sparking a rock to a hot vehicle tailpipe. Many investors in Pacific Gas and Electric, one of California’s largest utility companies, have already placed their bets and reduced their risk, with the company’s share price plummeting in a wave of selling in fear that the company will be held liable.

It should be noted that in 2016, the state’s electric utility was poised to be the center of bipartisan legislation from both state houses, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill. California investigative reporter Katy Grimes recently offered this background:

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bipartisan wildfire management bill in 2016, despite unanimous passage by the Legislature, 75-0 in the Assembly and 39-0 in the Senate. SB 1463 would have given local governments more say in fire-prevention efforts through the Public Utilities Commission proceeding making maps of fire hazard areas around utility lines. In a gross display of politics, this is especially pertinent given that Cal Fire and the state’s media are now blaming the largest utility in the state for the latest wildfires.

In his explanation of the veto, Brown indicated that map-making and threat-assessment was already occurring between the utilities commission and Cal Fire.

After Brown’s veto California Senator John Moorlach predicted:

“One of the paramount responsibilities of government is to provide for public safety. The consequences of wildfires include loss of life, property damage, impacts on ecosystems, etc. Communities in my district, particularly Laguna Beach, are rightfully very concerned about fire safety.

“SB 1463 would have not only safeguarded Laguna and other high fire-risk communities in Orange County, but would have helped other vulnerable communities throughout the state that are often threatened by wildfires caused by sparks from shorted or fallen utility lines. The Governor’s veto impedes the necessity to more urgently address the California Public Utilities Commission’s focus on identifying high risk areas that should be prioritized for appropriate mitigation measures.”

If it turns out the a powerline is responsible for these blazes,  Moorlach  would have been tragically prescient.

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